That’s one of many useful pieces of advice that Mary C. Schaefer, an author, trainer and consultant specializing in employee-manager communication, provides in a post on the Lead Change Group’s blog. “In one class a few weeks ago I heard the same phrase over and over, and realized it holds the key to a breakthrough,” she writes. That phrase:
When it comes to thinking about initiating a discussion about a touchy subject, inevitably I hear some version of, “What I don’t want to happen is ________.”
- For the other person to shut down
- To not have the answers
- For them to get emotional
- For them to get mad
- For me to get mad
Just by articulating this phrase, Schaefer is already providing a useful — and succinct — tool for mental preparation. Better still, she provides three possible responses:
The Obvious #1: Maneuver to minimize the likelihood your worst fear will be realized.
The Obvious #2: Focus on what you do want to happen.
A less obvious, but powerful choice: Be open to whatever happens.
“I’ve been a manager and coached many managers,” she explains. (She’s a former HR manager at a Fortune 100 company.) ”Over time we get to the point where we are wary of particular behavior, like the other person becoming emotional, throwing accusations, expressing anger. We get psyched out by what we think will happen. Doing this, we give the other person all the power….
“Empower yourself to face what you don’t want to happen beforehand and do what it takes to handle it if it does happen,” she continues. She then supplies three questions to help with the process:
- Am I blaming this person for anything? If so, what?
- Is there anything like anger or resentment that I need to let go before the conversation?
- If I put my assumptions aside, what am I curious about in this situation that only they can shed light on?
“I find when I do this self-examination I end up in a much better place to initiate a conversation or realize this is not the time to have it,” writes Schaefer. “This is part of growing as a character-based leader, growing in how you are leading yourself. When you find a place where you don’t feel empowered, there is an opportunity for you.”
For another terrific resource on how to have a difficult conversation, we recommend the Harvard Business Review blog "7 Tips for Difficult Conversations."