Wading into the deep end of a Tough Conversation (TC) without adequate preparation can be perilous, if not disastrous.
In our Tough Conversations trainings we urge participants to step carefully into the shallow end before getting in over their heads — or even up to their waists!
Sometimes it’s more important to discuss with the other side what the structure of a TC will look like than to start with substance.
For example, I have a TC coming up. There are important differences between the other party and me. I prefer to set some ground rules with her before we engage in substance. Going head to head on the issues at the start may only broaden the distance between us.
So we have agreed to begin by talking about structure. Here’s what that could involve:
1. If the outcome of our conversation will affect others, let’s identify and agree on who they are. Once agreed, let’s decide whether to include them in the conversation.
2. What’s the objective? I don’t mean my winning over her or her winning over me. I mean how can we frame our TC so that we at least agree on what the outcome will look like?
3. Timetable: Are we in a hurry to complete the TC or have we time? It helps to get agreement on a time frame.
4. Do either of us have some principles that we want the other to know about? I’d like us to put these on the table as well before delving into substance.
Understand that nailing down structure can be a valuable step in the process. By first getting agreement on these “non-issues” we both know that we have the capacity to move forward constructively on the substance.
Now it’s time for the deep end.