The common mistake we make during critical conversations and how to avoid it

Critical Conversations Mistake

What are critical conversations?

Some conversations are a piece of cake. They don't require much effort, and planning for them is unnecessary. 

And there are those conversations that you think about, dream (or have nightmares) about, and rehearse over and over in your head.

Today I want you to think about those second kind of conversations a bit more.

They are important conversations. They have an important goal and their outcomes creates a significant impact on some or all members of the conversation.

Perhaps you need to solve a problem. Or maybe you need to create a new approach or strategy.

Could be you need to suggest, design, or begin some important change effort.

You are concerned about this conversation. Probably because there may be conflict - the parties involved may not see eye to eye, initially.

Maybe you're not sure how the other person sees things, or how they will react to what you want to share or suggest.

You know these conversations? I call them "Critical Conversations".

Critical conversations carry a lot of weight. Approach them with an open mind

Often, we go into critical conversations with a certain predetermined outcome we want. And while it's really good to have a goal for what we want to accomplish in the conversation, there's a risk to becoming attached to a particular solution or approach.

What I suggest is that you have a goal for what you want to accomplish, but that you stay tentative and open about HOW you will accomplish it and allow that to be co-developed DURING the conversation, with full involvement from your conversation partner(s).

What are some of the risks of predetermined solutions?

Here are some of the risks of starting the conversation with a predetermined solution in mind:

You could have the wrong solution. 

You conceived of an idea for a specific solution when you were thinking about the problem prior to the conversation. That means that your idea solves the problem as YOU understand it. And it uses YOUR insights, knowledge and expertise to solve THAT problem. 

What you are missing in that thinking process is the other person's perspective on the problem, their ideas for solutions, and their perspective, current situation, and needs.

Your conversation partner has a different vantage point and knows things you don't know, has insights you can't even imagine, and possibly sees a bigger, or at the minimum a different, picture than you do. So it is imprudent to expect that a solution crafted with your limited view of the problem will be the best solution. You could be missing important aspects that will cause your solution to be insufficient. Or totally wrong.

You may not have the full commitment from the other person in implementing. 

As I discussed in my previous blog post about the importance of getting buy-in, when you approach another person with a predetermined solution, you stand a chance of alienating them from the solution because you didn't involve them in creating it. 

People tend to prefer their own ideas and are more committed to approaches they felt involved in creating. When you try to "force" your solution on them, they may buck at feeling coerced (even if this reaction is totally subconscious). They may feel like you're shoving your solution 'down their throat' and will be more likely to reject it. 

Even if they agree to it, they will not experience a strong sense of ownership to it. So when it's time to implement the solution or approach, they may not engage in the most committed and enthusiastic way. 

It is in your best interest to get their 'buy-in'. They will work harder and longer to  implement a solution that they feel was something they developed, or at least collaborated on developing, than when it was someone else's (your) idea.

You are missing on synergistic ideas that are only possible through collaboration. 

When you go in with an open mind and a curious, inquisitive attitude to the conversation, you'll do a much better job of fully identifying what are all the issues. You'll also be much more likely to think creatively together with your conversation partner about solutions that fully resolve the problem and that create a win-win solution that fits both of your needs. 

Coming in with a strong position toward a particular solution will blind you to other possibilities and potentially cause you to miss the opportunity to have a much better quality solution that you wouldn't have been able to conceive just by yourself. This is the definition of synergy -- the resultant 'whole' of the ideas that emerge from conversation is greater than the sum of its parts. Shouldn't you give synergy a chance?

Approach critical conversations with an open mind and an intention to co-develop a win-win solution

In the end, you can always have the solution be the one you would have come up with on your own. But there are more possibilities, and a better chance for a full resolution of the actual issues, when you approach conversations with an open mind about what's possible, and an intention to co-develop solutions in partnership with your conversation counter-part. 

  • As you plan and prepare, think of some ideas and recommendations, some options and possibilities, and a point-of-view to share. But stay tentative and don't feel married to your ideas. 
  • Once you are in the conversation, be curious and ask lots of questions to understand the other party's perspective and needs. 
  • Suggest your ideas AFTER you've asked your conversation partner to share THEIR ideas for solutions FIRST.
  • Then, work together to co-develop the best solution - the one that fits everyone's needs and has everyone's support and commitment.

It will work much better than the alternative. What do you think?

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