A difficult conversation is like going on a long drive to an unfamiliar destination.

You’ll face twists and turns. Sometimes, you’ll get diverted, or even lost.

It’s why (most of the time!) we pop our destination into a satnav. As a result, we’re only moments away from having our route recalibrated when we get stuck.

There’s a satnav for difficult conversations, too:

clear goal.

Difficult conversations are emotional. And our emotions lead us up blind alleys and towards dead ends.

However, if you have a clear goal, you’re better equipped to recognise that you’re heading in the wrong direction because you know what you’re trying to achieve. From there, getting back on track towards your goal is relatively straightforward.

Why is a clear goal so important?

Clear goals keep us intentional, calm, curious and resourceful.

The right behaviours lead to the right outcome, so we must do everything we can to facilitate them.

By looking down the road towards the outcome, the nitty-gritty of the conversation becomes much less significant. We become more resilient, so when the person we’re talking to says or does something that triggers us, it doesn’t feel as personal or knock us too far off course.

Deciding on and keeping a clear goal in mind can help us:

  • Change a moan into a constructive comment
  • Stop us from nagging, whining, or hinting
  • Start the conversation with clarity
  • Create a collaborative conversation, rather than a series of monologues
  • Make the other person feel safe and not like they’re under attack
  • Deliver critique in a way that doesn’t cause defensiveness
  • Stay objective throughout the interaction

However, before you can decide on your goal, you need to understand what the problem is in the first place!

With that in mind, here’s a mental exercise to perform and a series of questions to ask yourself that’ll help you tackle even the most contentious conversation.

The Exercise

 When you know a difficult conversation is just around the corner, take the time to consider:

  1. What exactly is the person doing or not doing to create a problem?
  2. How is the person’s behaviour causing a problem for you or your colleagues?

The key here is to be concise and specific. If your answer to either question is longer than three sentences, it’s an indication that you’re not quite clear on the root cause. If you’re not clear on the root cause, you can still set a goal, but it won’t be the clear goal you need to stay on course as the conversation progresses.

If you can, keep digging until you discover the real answers.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to ask yourself these three questions:

Three questions to ask yourself

1.  What are you thinking?

This is a question of facts.

Consider what you’re actually seeing and hearing, rather than the information that’s coming to you via hearsay. This ensures you create an accurate picture of the situation in your mind, so you won’t be wrong-footed part-way through the conversation because you said something erroneous.

2. What are you feeling?

Then, think about what you’re feeling.

The chances are the behaviour will be causing a negative emotional response, so you need to understand why. If you need to, use the Feelings Ladder to figure it out.

When you understand the why behind your emotional response jettisoning that negativity is much easier!

3.  What do you want?

Finally, decide what you want.

You need to be realistic here. Whilst we’d all love it if the person was radically transformed by your words, it’s probably not going to happen! Therefore, decide the degree of behaviour change you can live. Then, make that the focus of your words and actions as you enter the conversation.

Ready. Set a Goal. Go!

I hope you found this tool helpful.

If you have any questions or need a little more guidance with your difficult conversations, fill in the contact form.