Critical Conversations For Dummies
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Effectively delivering a message during a critical conversation comes down to communication style. Your communication style may be direct, or something else. Your communication style is the way you deliver the message, not necessarily which words you choose. Most individuals have to adapt their personal style during critical conversations, or at least be aware of their own communication style.

People who are direct communicators often tell it like it is, with very few exceptions. They also like to drive action and continue forward momentum during meetings and discussions. At times they may argue just for the sake of arguing. Although direct communicators can be seen as aggressive or forceful, their behavior is often driven by a passion about what they believe is right or wrong.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, politicians and executives who seem decisive and driven are direct communicators. Direct communicators are nearly perfect at public speaking because they can energize others with their passion. During critical conversations, however, the direct style can come across as a bit overbearing.

Because the goal of critical conversations is to make meaningful change to behaviors or to create a mutual agreement toward a behavior change, being driven to get immediate results (as direct communicators are) isn’t always the best policy.

If the other party thinks you have a one-track mind for the right way things are done, she may feel that her opinions and ideas don’t matter. How do you know you’re working with a direct communicator and what can you do to balance such a powerful communication personality? This table gives you a few ideas.

Behaviors of a Direct Communicator
Behavior What You May Observe How to Adapt If You See This Behavior What to Do If You Behave This Way
Talking fast and moving fast Few breaths, a rapid conversation pace, quickly moving from one topic to another, perhaps even pacing around the room. Conversation is deadline—or action—focused. Clearly state the end goal of the conversation up front. If the other party is pushing for action before agreement on the problem, meet her halfway by letting her know the goals or next steps will more likely be achieved if everyone agrees on them first. Count to two before jumping into the conversation to allow a few seconds of silence between thoughts. Let the other parties know it’s okay to slow you down or ask questions.
Using intense body language Large hand movements, banging hands on the desk or waving them around in the air, big gestures. Keep your own actions subtle and calm to balance the energy in the room. Look at how others in the room are moving and using space and mirror their behaviors.
Talking more than listening Direct communicators are often so busy expressing their own opinion that they miss the opinion of others. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care. Slow down the pace. Step in frequently to make sure all parties have mutual agreements and an understanding of next steps. Be aware of your pace. Allow others to voice ideas or concerns. Ask for input at the end of each thought. You may practice saying, “Let me take a break from talking and ask for your ideas.”

Some people may be intimidated by the intensity of direct communicators and therefore they may not naturally want to speak up during a conversation with them. Direct communicators may benefit from having a trusted peer or coach give them feedback on how their communication style is working or not working, and work together to think of ways to adapt behaviors in the future.

Don’t make an assumption. Direct communicators aren’t necessarily aggressive or hostile people. Passion, purpose, and drive often fuel this communication style.

About This Article

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About the book author:

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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