How to Confidently Engage in a Crucial Conversation

Do you need to have a crucial conversation but you’re avoiding it like the plague? Is there someone in your life that you would rather never see again than have to talk to or even be in the same room with? I get it. There are just some people that we don’t want to talk to, ever! But what if the person you don’t want to talk to is your boss, or a family member? Chances are that you can’t avoid them so you’ll need to figure out a way to communicate what you want and what you need without feeling like you want to pull your hair out after every interaction. According to the authors of a book titled Crucial Conversations, a crucial conversation is defined as “a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong”. Learning how to have effective crucial conversations is an important part of growth in both your personal and professional lives.

Here are my tips for confidently engaging in a crucial conversation:

  1. Know what your end goal is.Before engaging in a crucial conversation, think about what you want to get out of the conversation. What do you want to leave the conversation with that would make you feel like it was successful? Is your end goal a salary increase? Is your end goal a promotion? Is your end goal clearing up a misunderstanding? It’s important to have a clearly defined objective for the conversation so that you can stay focused.
  2. Be specific.Once you have the end goal defined, it’s important to be specific in guiding the conversation towards your end goal. For example, if you are you asking for a salary increase, you should know exactly how much money you want; if you are asking for more responsibility at work, you should know what specific tasks you’d like to take on; if you are hoping to clear up a misunderstanding, keep that end goal in mind so that you don’t get distracted by continually trying to prove why you might be right.
  3. Prepare what you want to say. Crucial conversations should not be “made up as you go.” Because you have a clear end goal for the conversation, it’s important to map out what you are going to say so that the conversation moves in the direction that you’d like. Write down the most critical points that you want to address. Think of how the other person may respond so that you have an idea of how you’ll address their questions or objections to what you’re saying.
  4. Keep your emotions in check. In order to get your desired result from the conversation, you’ll need to first work on yourself. This is often the most difficult part. Try to take a step back and determine what the trigger is for you feeling the way you do. Are your feelings of anger or hurt or defensiveness truly coming from what the other person is doing or is it possible that this is coming from a story you’re telling yourself about why the other person is behaving in a particular manner towards you?
  5. Stick to the facts.When having a conversation where feelings or ego are involved, it’s important to stick to the facts. Focus on what happened that made you feel a certain way as opposed to placing blame on the other person for your feelings. For example, you could say something like, “when you corrected me in front of my team during my presentation last week, it made me feel embarrassed” instead of “you are always embarrassing me by correcting me in front of my team.” While the difference may be subtle, one sentence puts the focus on how the behaviour made you feel as opposed to placing the blame on the person you are in conversation with.
  6. Offer a solution.If the conversation is one in which you are critiquing something, it’s important that you offer up a solution to your perceived problem. The original solution you offer up may be accepted as is, or you may have to go back and forth a bit to come up with a solution that works for both parties.
  7. Practice Empathy. Try to think about what the other person may be going through in their life that may be contributing to their actions or behaviours. Don’t assume that the person you are in conversation with will see things from your point of view. You may first have to understand where they are coming from and then try to understand things from their point of view before they will be open to hearing what you have to say.
  8. Listen and learn to be comfortable with silence.Learning how to listen more than you speak and learning how to be comfortable with silence is a true skill that most people don’t practice enough. Listen to what the other person is saying and try not to immediately respond until you’ve truly heard what they are saying. On the flip side of this, after you’ve made your point, try not to fill the silence with more words. Once your point has been made, stop talking. Sometimes the other person needs a moment of silence to process what you are saying.
  9. Be Curious.Start the conversation from a place of curiosity and be mindful to respect what the other person is saying (even if you disagree). Think about what assumptions you might be making about the other person that may not be true.
  10. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learning how to effectively have a crucial conversation is a necessary skill to get ahead in both your career and your life. Like anything that truly matters, the only way to get better is to allow yourself to be vulnerable, put yourself out there, and practice the skill. So, stop running away from whatever is keeping you up at night and schedule a time to have that crucial conversation now.


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