Critical Conversations For Dummies
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Critical conversations are often emotional, which may lead to confrontation. You can turn confrontation in a critical conversation into accommodation by using one of three proven methods. Whether you’re kicking off the critical conversation or on the receiving end of a potentially confrontational situation, moving from argument to collaboration will create more positive results.

With a little practice, almost any confrontational situation can be flipped into a collaborative and accommodating discussion. Try these methods for turning confrontational words into more accommodating ones.

Focus on the process and the future

Argumentative: “I never received any e-mails. You must have made a mistake.”

Accommodating: “I don’t remember receiving the e-mail. If you like, I would be happy to look into the process together and find out what happened and how we can fix it.”

What changed and why: In one sentence, you can see three big changes. First, “you made a mistake” turns into an opportunity to work together. Second, instead of accusing a person, the focus of the meeting is on the process and how it can be fixed.

Third, rather than accusing the other party of doing anything wrong, the accommodating sentence focuses on the future and how to prevent the problem from happening again.

Lead with fact and options

Argumentative: “You have to change your behavior.”

Accommodating: “Emotions were high last week in the office. I noticed that the yelling in the office made team members withdraw and stop sharing their ideas on the customer meeting.”

What changed and why: Remember that no one needs to do anything during a critical conversation, so telling someone that she has to change anything, especially her behavior, could easily be met with hostility.

Instead, state the facts and their impact from an objective point of view. It can also be helpful to turn possibly harsh statements into questions. Genuine questions help gather more information and open a dialogue, which is perfect for a critical conversation.

When using questions to turn possibly hostile conversations into cooperative ones, be careful not to start the Spanish Inquisition. Come to the conversation with a genuine desire to make things better, not to sarcastically or critically accuse someone. A comment isn’t necessarily cooperative just because you add a question mark to the end.

Remember that things are always possible

Argumentative: “That’s just not possible.”

Accommodating: “That’s different from how we usually solve problems. Are you willing to look at other alternative solutions?”

What changed and why: Using the words “never” or “not possible” immediately closes the discussion and limits the number of solutions that are possible.

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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