4 Things to Do Before a Tough Conversation

I was in denial for about a year and a half before I admitted that I needed to fire Randy.

His work performance had made the conclusion inescapable for years, but he was so darned nice and likeable that I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Not only did I like him, I also knew his income was crucial to his family. Furthermore, over the nine years he worked for me, his income had grown to the point that he would find it difficult to get comparable compensation. I hated the thought of the hardship that letting him go might cause. And yet Randy (which is not his real name) had shown himself to be entirely incompetent at managing people and projects. He completed projects based on whoever was nagging him the most not on the importance to the business of the commitments he’d made. You knew he would agree to anything, but you never knew if you’d actually get it. His team was in a constant state of whiplash as his panicked phone calls would often reset their entire agenda.

Eighteen months earlier, I had communicated the serious nature of this chronic pattern. I was certain he could make the changes he agreed to. In subsequent months I fooled myself into believing his random successes demonstrated a pattern of improvement. But after such a long time — and a perfectly harmonized chorus of complaints from his coworkers — I could no longer elude my responsibility. Randy had to go.

I lived in dread of our Friday 2:00 PM appointment until the moment it arrived.

My colleagues and I have spent 30 years studying best practices for dealing with just this kind of moment of emotional or political risk. We’ve learned that how we deal with these kinds of crucial conversations predicts the magnitude of our influence, the health of our teams, the consistency of innovation, the strength of customer relationships, and even the durability of marriages and friendship. We’ve spent many thousands of hours observing how people manage these moments, and our recurring observation is that, unfortunately, when it matters most, we do our worst. We cower or coerce, obfuscate or exaggerate, contend or defend.

It’s no surprise that books on these topics (like ours) fly off the shelves. We all crave tactical advice about mastering the verbal ordeal. How should I compose my opening sentence? How do I present my concerns? How can I be sure the other person is forthcoming? How do I stay focused and get to a solution?

While these are all valid questions, our research shows the primary predictor of your success in a crucial conversation has less to do with how you use your mouth, and much more to do with what you do before you open it. What I did Friday at 1:30 PM mattered more than what happened at 2:00 PM.

Here are the four things you must do to prepare. If you do them well, the odds your conversation will go well improve dramatically.

Read the full article @ Harvard Business Review

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