Start with mutual respect and a positive outcome is more likely, says Jim Aitkins
“Look, I didn’t mean to start an argument. And I don’t know why you’re all offended. I merely said that I think you are an idiot, so I don’t see what the big deal is.”
This is something you will probably never hear in the course of a high stakes conversation between two people. Much more subtle are the ways we sometimes fail to keep the focus on what does and does not need to be conveyed when discussing potentially volatile issues.
Usually, we don’t come right out and call someone an idiot. And it isn’t always the case that being offended shows forth with the words, “Hey, that was offensive.”
Such sentiments are revealed, though concealed, in complex subtleties; nuances that are picked up and responded to at a somewhat subconscious level. They feed arguments that take place at the conscious level where a heated argument can get kindled, lit and escalate quickly, almost before either party even knows what just happened.
That’s where one of the most important lessons in the eye-opening book, Crucial Conversations by authors Kerry Petersen, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, comes into play. The book suggests that before any high stakes conversation takes place, we need to know for sure what we want to get across.
It is absolutely crucial that we communicate from the heart and that we stay focused on what we really want and, for that matter, what we don’t want.
If I know that I want to honour the other person, I can decide, in advance of our conversation, that my speech will not contain words used as a weapon. In my determination not to hurt, I will be aiming for honour as I formulate the message that I do want to get across.
Sounds pretty reasonable so far, right? If so, then let’s put into practice what the authors of Crucial Conversations also recommend. It is a technique that all but assures the successful outcome of what they term a ‘high stakes’ conversation. The technique: speaking up!
Explain to the other person, out loud, exactly what outcome you want to accomplish in the conversation and exactly what you want to avoid.
I want to discuss the ways we can recover the production time we lost while the machinery malfunction was getting resolved. And I want to make sure you know, from the outset, that this is not about blaming you for anything.
We need to get your valued input about the budget. We also want to make sure you know that your department is not a low priority.
This conversation is about making sure you are clear on our curfew expectations. It is not about controlling you or curtailing your freedom or independence.
According to the research of the authors noted above, clearly stating exactly what do want to accomplish (communicating, at the very beginning of the conversation, what the intended outcome is) and to state exactly what you do not want the conversation to turn into (a negative event), is an absolute essential key to successfully navigating a crucial conversation toward an outcome that all participants are happy with.
If you start things off believing, in your heart, that the other person is as interested in a positive outcome as you are, and then make clear what is it that you want the conversation to accomplish, you are much more likely to avoid conflict. You will also begin to be seen as a competent and caring person.
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