You know the feeling – the knot in the stomach, the furrowed brow, the pain between the shoulders, the sweaty palms – the physiological signs of preparing for that “talk”. Critical Conversations are a part of your professional life and should not be avoided. If you are having a difficult talk with your boss, the possibility exists that the time and energy involved in preparing for and having that conversation will produce a less than positive result for you.
Every conversation can be a critical conversation. If a conversation is not important, why waste your energy and the other person’s time to engage in it? Even day – to – day conversations become critical when the people engaged in the conversation have differing opinions (political conversations), when stakes are high (asking for a raise), or when emotions run strong (corrective criticism).
Challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying issues cause a need for tough, important talks. Even positive conversations can be difficult.
Employee evaluations can lead to critical conversations. Many people cringe at the thought of giving – or receiving – an evaluation. Even if the evaluation is positive, there is fear and dread on the part of both the evaluator and the person being evaluated. I recommend that evaluations be done intermittently during the year. Structure these mini-evals in three-month intervals.
Two weeks before the evaluation is scheduled, give a blank copy of the evaluation form to the employee and ask them to fill it out as a self-evaluation. Have them bring their self-evaluation to the evaluation meeting and compare the two. In my experience, some things listed are very similar and a few things are very different. This comparison opens the door to a professional conversation about performance, productivity and effectiveness.
Ineffective methods for difficult conversations are email, voice mail – or avoidance. How many times have you received an email from an office mate or supervisor regarding a “touchy” issue? It is hard to imagine this communication as conversational. Voice mail is an equally ineffective method for having a critical conversation. Without conversation, you have merely the expressed disappointments of one person, the supervisor.
Avoidance can be the preferred non-effective method of conducting difficult talks. Avoidance can lead to repression of anger, followed by volatile expressions of thought. Eventually, one of the people involved tips the scale so that the conversation becomes inevitable. Our worst behavior – yelling, screaming, sarcasm, belittling comes out when conversations matter most but have been repressed and avoided.
Think about these questions before you enter into a critical conversation:
1. What do you want? What do you not want from the conversation?
2. Is there a mutual purpose? Is there respect on both sides?
3 Use active listening.
4. Finish clearly – determine who does what by when. Set up a follow – up time, record commitments, and hold each other accountable.
Working with an executive coach leads to effective, positive critical conversations. In my work with leaders and teams, I have seen their skill levels develop at laser speed when enhanced by practice and role-play. If you want to ensure your critical conversations are productive conversations, call me to work with you and your team.