Critical Conversations For Dummies
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The success of a critical conversation is based on the amount of planning that goes into it. Four major pitfalls contribute to critical conversation catastrophes. The good news is that you can avoid these pitfalls with the right planning.

  • Pitfall #1: Unmanaged expectations of the conversation. A critical conversation isn’t just water cooler talk; you have reasons and expectations for the discussion. Critical conversations are complex; spell out the goals up front. Taking the time to write down your expectations of the conversation brings clarity to the conversation and helps you manage the outcome.

  • Pitfall #2: Badly defined scope of the conversation. Trying to accomplish too much with a conversation can make the discussion seem overwhelming and unorganized. Doing the preparation work up front helps you identify the most important issues to address so that you can create a focused discussion that generates the desired results.

  • Pitfall #3: Unclear roles. Knowing who does what in a conversation may seem like a no-brainer — one person talks, the other listens, right? Sometimes. But sometimes you may need to hire a mediation expert or bring in a facilitator.

    Other times, the initiator of the conversation may need to play two roles — a manager giving feedback and a facilitator keeping a discussion on track. Prep work helps clarify your role and the roles you expect of others.

  • Pitfall #4: Uncontrolled emotions. This pitfall often results from a lack of the preparation work listed under pitfalls 1, 2, and 3. When you have confusion about expectations, roles, and the purpose of the conversation, any of the parties involved may quickly feel that they’re being attacked or blamed.

    Focusing on the facts and using the critical conversation process are the best remedies when high emotions take the conversation off track.

With so much at stake during a critical conversation, spending a little more time up front pays off by reducing the risk of these four specific problem areas and helping you to be physically and emotionally prepared for the conversation.

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Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach. She has created and taught courses on communication skills, crucial conversations for new managers, communication for professionals, and dealing with difficult conversations. She is the coauthor of Leading Business Change For Dummies and is the Chief Leader of She Leads.

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