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Keeping Agreements Intact During Critical Conversations

Agreements reached during a critical conversation may unravel, causing the conversation to run off-course. How can you keep agreements you've already reached from affecting a critical conversation. When agreements begin to come apart during a critical conversation, you may feel like all the work that went into reaching an agreement in the first place has gone to waste.

But quite the contrary is true. Agreements in a critical conversation are put in place throughout the process so that regrouping is easy when conversations start going south.

There are several key agreements that critical conversations need to have. These agreements aren’t just for fun — they help keep conversations on track and help build support for decisions and actions.

If the first agreement is to sit in a room and have a discussion, then when someone starts arguing, the participants are reminded that they made an agreement to work together. The participants can then decide whether that agreement is still in place. Often this slight push is enough to refocus the conversation.

If the conversation is truly struggling or derailing because of a lack of agreement rather than personal conflicts, ask whether the conversation is still focused on the agreed-on problem or solution or whether something else is going on.

You may interject with something like, “We agreed to work together to solve the problem. Then we agreed that all the issues were on the table, but now we’re having trouble coming up with solutions. Do we need to revisit the problem, or is something else going on here?”

This method of revisiting the agreements works just as well in a small group or one-on-one setting as it does in a larger conversation.

A final opportunity to redirect a conversation when agreements unravel is to refocus on the process. You may simply restate the agreed-on process, and ask whether the participant wants a little more information about how the process works. Stepping back to explain the process and gaining agreement to move forward takes little time and can deliver big results in the effort to move the conversation forward.

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