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How to Handle Tough Conversations

How to Handle Tough Conversations


    I just finished a terrific book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Authors Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Kerry Patterson, and Al Switzler define a “crucial conversation” as one where opinions vary, something is at risk, and emotions are running high.

    The results of truly crucial conversations have a large impact on your quality of life. However, despite their importance, we often back away from crucial conversations because we feel awkward or fear that we’ll make the situation worse.  And when we do attempt to have them, we’re prone to making stupid or offensive comments that lead to disaster. Some work-related topics that involve crucial conversations include:

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    • Talking to a co-worker who is behaving badly
    • Giving the boss feedback about his management style
    • Critiquing a direct report’s work
    • Confronting a team member who is shirking her responsibilities
    • Giving an unfavorable performance review

    Twenty-five years of research involving 17 organizations and more than 100,000 people led the authors to conclude that the most critical skill of competent leaders is the ability to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues.

    My own crucial conversation

    I have a confession to make. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few years now, but I consulted it today because I need to have a crucial conversation myself.  There is a woman I work with who never meets deadlines. I’ve talked to her multiple times about this issue, but the situation hasn’t improved. At this point, she’s acknowledged that I’m nagging her, which probably makes her even less likely to comply. I wish I could just let it go, but every missed deadline is costing me time and money.

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    According to Crucial Conversations, I’ve been addressing a symptom rather than the problem itself. The real problem here is that my co-worker doesn’t feel that it’s important to fulfill her commitments, and a symptom of this is missing deadlines.

    The book suggests that I look for patterns in her behavior (i.e. other instances where she doesn’t do what she said she was going to do) and have a calm and honest conversation about those. And if I do seem a little frustrated, my emotions won’t seem out of proportion because I’m not addressing a single incident but a global problem that signals a lack of trust and respect.

    My plan of attack

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    So what might my approach to the conversation look like?

    “Jessica (not her real name), I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been missing deadlines, leaving the office before we’ve finalized client deliverables, and forgetting to make your prospecting calls. When you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it makes me feel like you lack commitment to this job and that I can’t trust you.   I would like to understand where you’re coming from so we can decide if this position is a good fit for you.”

    I recognize that this conversation has the potential to grow defensive and heated and I will do my best to remain calm, listening carefully to Jessica’s point of view. Throughout, I must remind myself of what I really want, which is for Jessica to change her behavior to demonstrate a true commitment to our work.  If she can do that following this interaction, then I need to let bygones be bygones.”

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    What crucial conversations have you had recently? What did you do right, and what did you do wrong? What do you feel you need to work on to be even more effective?

    (Photo credit: Middle-aged Man Holding Phone While Young Woman Yells via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2018

    7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

    7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

    When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

    You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

    1. Connecting them with each other

    Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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    It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

    2. Connect with their emotions

    Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

    For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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    3. Keep going back to the beginning

    Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

    On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

    4. Link to your audience’s motivation

    After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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    Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

    5. Entertain them

    While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

    Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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    6. Appeal to loyalty

    Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

    In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

    7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

    Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

    Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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