Critical Conversations For Dummies
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Mastering the art of critical conversations provides many benefits, such as learning how to deal with conflict. By mastering critical conversations, you may discover some other personal and professional benefits as well.

Critical conversations increase your leadership potential

Senior executives often judge leadership confidence by looking at these three traits:

  • Asking for exactly what you want without being pushy, aggressive, or annoying

  • Handling difficult personality types and situations at work with poise and ease

  • Maintaining all these skills during change, crisis, and chaos

By using critical conversation methods, you can handle difficult personalities and situations and ask for what you want and need without being overly aggressive. By acknowledging others’ feelings and ideas, you’ll be seen as someone who handles tough people with composure rather than someone who fights back.

Critical conversations build confidence in managing tough situations

Critical conversations deal with tough situations directly by focusing constructive feedback on a specific issue, behavior, or problem, and by developing mutual agreement throughout the process. Most importantly, critical conversations take out the guess work by providing guidelines on what to say, and when and how to say it. Difficult circumstances are tough enough, so having a clear roadmap creates some certainty in uncertain times. All these benefits create confidence.

Critical conversations teach you to influence without overpowering

Many workforces are shifting from a top-down model to an information-based model where “Boss A” is no longer the supreme dictator but rather a facilitator who makes sure that the real producers have the right tools to do their jobs. This makes influencing skills more important than ever.

Critical conversations can help you influence outcomes by using supportive language rather than aggressive and dictatorial strategies. By making decisions with, rather than for, your team, you can proactively identify specific and tangible recommendations for moving forward.

Critical conversations create healthy work relationships

One of the best ways to build credibility in a relationship is to give meaningful and timely feedback with the intent of helping employees, peers, and even managers increase their effectiveness. Even not-so-wonderful feedback in this context can build a more trusting environment.

Using the critical conversation method of examining what is happening and asking for agreement to do something about it is perhaps the most powerful and proactive way to build a working relationship.

Critical conversations focus on teamwork

Critical conversations help all team members to be more open and direct with each other and to deliver on commitments by creating mutual agreements and ownership. Using the “Examine the Issues, Decide Together, Get Moving, and Evaluate” model, team members can be proactive by asking and giving input and deciding together how they want to act and implement solutions.

By making critical conversation the way work gets done, teamwork can be focused on results and the content of decision-making, rather than on unproductive processes.

Critical conversations make work easier

Although it may seem like a good amount of effort goes into a critical conversation, the price of poor communication quickly adds up when you consider the cost of decreased productivity and the low morale of co-workers who feel they’re banging their heads on a brick wall.

Critical conversations make life and work easier by focusing on a targeted decision or outcome, rather than trusting random luck or gut instinct.

Critical conversations help develop rapport quickly

Two things develop rapport quickly: confidence and authenticity. Critical conversations do both, and they do them fast.

Authenticity builds rapport. Each critical conversation starts with the initiator expressing a desire to solve the problem at hand, with no hidden agenda. If you’re authentic, all the parties will see it in your actions. In return they’ll start trusting not only you but also others. In this process, they’ll feel comfortable being open and honest as well.

Critical conversations teach you to be a better coach

Critical conversations take managers out of the putting-out-fires role and convert them into guides who help employees build self-sufficient career skills and gain the knowledge required to do their own jobs better. You can spend days trying to convince an employee why he needs to see the value of something or why he needs to change, or you can ask the individual the following two questions:

  • “Do you agree that it’s important for our team to change/improve/deliver exceptional service?”

  • “What do you want to work on to make this change a reality?”

These exploring questions that are part of a critical conversation help create agreements and take the pressure off you by sharing responsibility for making decisions.

Critical conversations encourage different ideas

Using the critical conversation model to acknowledge that differences exist and to gain agreement on what you’re trying to achieve are some of the easiest ways to solicit different ideas regarding how to get work done. Even though you may be passionate about one way of doing things, working through the critical conversation process helps all the parties involved recognize that the group has multiple ways to reach desired outcomes.

Critical conversations teach you to manage conflict

Although critical conversations focus on a specific dialogue, almost all critical conversations are focused on resolving some type of conflict.

When you see a problem developing or find yourself in the middle of a conflict, use this roadmap and your critical conversation skills to move toward resolution:

  1. Examine the situation by asking about the current situation, issue, or concern.

  2. Continue to gain perspective by researching the facts from all perspectives.

  3. Work with others to decide what to do next. Include every step in the process from gaining agreement to brainstorming solutions.

  4. Come up with a mutually agreeable action plan to resolve the conflict.

  5. Check in on progress frequently.

The critical conversation steps are more than just a foundation to build on, because the steps really are the blueprints that tell you how to resolve almost any disagreement or conflict.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

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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