Prioritizing Issues for a Critical Conversation

If you have a laundry list of issues that need to change, prioritizing them before having a critical conversation is key. Decide which issues you need to discuss in a critical conversation, and which ones can wait or even never be discussed if the other areas change. Here are a few things to keep in mind when prioritizing what to focus on during the critical conversation:

  • Consider the biggest consequence: To prioritize all the issues, start with the facts and the impact the facts have on the organization or team. What issues have had the biggest consequence?

    Although you may see a difference in work styles, the most important issues are the ones that have the biggest negative impact. For example, sure someone forgetting to do his financial report at the end of the month is a big issue, but not delivering on client commitments (which could lead to the client asking your competitor to do the work) may be more important.

  • Start with two: Perhaps the receiver of the information doesn’t deliver projects on time, and the quality is poor; she talks too loudly, treats others with disrespect; and so on, and so on. But throwing out all this information will surely fall on deaf ears. Even if all parties agree to work through the issues at hand, too much data will just overwhelm the other party.

    Start with the most important concerns that are leading to the most negative consequences, and create action plans for those concerns.

    If you feel there is still room for improvement, add in the third concern or idea but try to stop there. Work on those two or three issues, and if there are still concerns later, have another conversation at a later date. The first conversation will open the dialogue, and if you group the concerns together, fixing two or three important behaviors may do the trick.

  • Combine concerns: Combining or grouping concerns can be the right way to go when you’re dealing with multiple issues. Although you need to base the critical conversation on facts, finding general themes may make the information more manageable and easier to understand and retain.

    You may be able to give specific examples of when a person did not collaborate with the team, for example, they did not attend team meetings and did not participate in discussions when they did show up.

    In this case, you may summarize this with the following three examples: “I have noticed you are not participating actively in team meetings. Last month you did not attend any of our Friday calls, and this week I know you were on the call but you did not offer your opinion on possible solutions for the client.”

  • Use the most recent data: Timing is everything, and digging up issues from a few years back is only going to de-motivate the other party. If the data you use isn’t from the last three to six months, it may no longer be relevant, and the recipient very well could think, “You knew this for a year and never told me!”

As with all critical conversations, for each of the areas you plan to present, come prepared with the future expectations in order to create mutual agreement in the conversation. Nothing is worse than presenting facts on where improvement needs to take place but never giving the other party support or ideas on how to improve.

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