Ten Minutes to a Critical Conversation

Part of the Critical Conversations For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Critical conversations take practice, perspective, and preparation. Unfortunately, sometimes there is never enough time to get ready because the conversation needs to happen now. For these situations, 10 minutes of preparation before a critical conversation will get you on the path to a successful discussion:

  • Minute 1: Make sure you have sufficient time to see the conversation through to the end. It is unfair to the other person to drop horrible news or difficult feedback on them and then have to speed off to another conversation. If you don’t have at least 30 minutes to have the conversation, it may be better to postpone it.

  • Minute 2: Be realistic about what you can and cannot achieve with a last minute conversation. Keep the topic limited to one example. Even if there are more issues you would like to discuss in the future, use this last-minute critical conversation as a way to create an open and effective work environment.

  • Minutes 3-6: Make sure the conversation is focused on facts and why the facts are important, not just opinion. Nothing is worse than tossing out old grudges or highly subjective opinions, even if you have all the time in the world to prepare. Write down the actual behavior or event that happened, the consequence of that behavior or event, and why you feel it is important. This brief preparation will help focus the conversation. For example: Fact: a colleague refused to share important information during a meeting; Consequence: you need the information before the end of the day to give to the customer; Feelings: you feel you can’t do the best job possible for the organization without this information.

  • Minutes 6-7: Practice your key sentence. While you may not have a tremendous amount of time to practice, take one minute to practice the key information you are going to deliver. In the previous example you may say, “I know everyone is busy and we did not have time to talk about this during the meeting, but I need to deliver our team report to our customer this afternoon. I feel under pressure and anxious since I cannot do my best job if I do not have the information. Can we sit down and find out how to get this information as efficiently as possible?”

  • Minutes 8-9: Understand you have a good chance to resolve an issue rather quickly with a conversation. However, even if you cannot resolve the issue, use the conversation as an opening and building block to future dialogue by demonstrating empathy, and by being willing and open to listen to the perspective of the other person. Be prepared to ask for the other person’s views and ideas, not just your own.

  • Minute 10: Take a deep breath. Be open and honest, and know that even if the conversation does not go as planned, sincerity goes a long way.

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