Difficult Conversations…

I’ve been thinking about what topic I might use to begin participating on The Small Business Daily and the idea of Difficult Conversations – what are they and what we can do about them came to mind. You know these conversations – an employer talking to an employee about a performance issue, a business partner talking to her partner about the way he introduces her, or a professional talking to a client who’s late in paying. There are many permutations however they all have one thing in common – an unpleasant feeling about needing to do it.

Some conversations you can prepare for as in the case of an employer speaking to an employee about a performance issue. In their book Crucial Confrontations, the authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler describe using the concept of CPR – an acronym for Content, Pattern, and Relationship. The first time a problem comes up, talk about the Content – “You drank too much at the lunch meeting, started talking too loud, made fun of our client, and embarrassed the company.” The content of a problem is a single event.

The next time the problem occurs, talk Pattern – “This is the second time this has occurred. You agreed it wouldn’t happen again and I’m concerned that I can’t count on you to keep a promise.” Pattern issues acknowledge that problems have histories and histories make a difference.

If the problem continues, talk about Relationship, what’s happening to us. Relationship concerns are bigger than content or pattern. The issue is that the string of problems has caused you to lose trust in the person. You doubt their competence and you don’t respect or trust their promises. “This is starting to put a strain on how we work together. I feel like I have to nag you and I don’t like doing that. My concern is that I can’t trust you to keep the agreements you make.” When there’s a lack of trust in this relationship, that’s the larger problem.

One way to keep these conversations on topic is to avoid being judgmental about the behavior and focus on the results or consequences as a result of the behavior. For example, “You’re thirty minutes late. I counted on you to be answering the phones at 9:00 a.m., so I scheduled a conference call for 9:00. Because I had to take care of the phones, I had to delay my call and two members were not available at 9:30. It will take several days to put this call together again with everyone’s schedules.

These types of conversations are part of every day business. No one can avoid them – it’s just a matter of how long they can tolerate being delayed because the longer you remain silent, the more emotions that will build up. Pretty soon, it becomes difficult to separate the issues from the emotions and effecting change becomes far more unlikely.

Michael Shapiro
Dynamic Management Solutions, Inc.

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