Engaging in important or critical conversations is an important part of improving leadership skills, management development, and executive coaching.
Most of us avoid these critical conversation skills in executive coaching, even when we know they can lead to better outcomes.
Choosing to remain silent is not the answer. Break the code of silence by purposefully building an approach for your next critical conversation that will give you the confidence you need to successfully navigate through one of the most challenging requirements of your leadership role.
Develop Your Approach to Improve Your Critical Conversation Skills:
Developing the right mind-set and skill set will help you create the conditions for the conversation to stay on track. Consider the following strategies to improve your critical communication and leadership skills:
Identify your Goals
Begin to shape the goals of the conversation by examining your motives.
Use these 4 questions to establish the right mind-set:
- What do I want for myself?
- What do I want for the other person?
- What do I want for the relationship?
- What does my behavior tell me about my underlying motives?
Keeping your answers to these questions front and center in your mind will keep you grounded and focused during the conversation. Dig deep to identify if you’re really looking to win or get revenge and work to find a healthier approach.
Examine your motives to identify one or two goals for the conversation:
“I am hoping we can invest some time in understanding each other’s perspectives and then determine how we can work more collaboratively.”
Know Your Default Communication Style
When stakes are high and/or emotions run strong, we typically revert to a default communication style that leads us away from our goals.
Think about your last critical conversation:
- How did you respond when faced there was disagreement or strong emotions? (Did you become defensive? Did you become angry or directive? Did you cave?)
- What impact did your behavior have on the other person and the outcomes of the conversation?
Understanding how you typically behave under pressure will help you notice when the conversations are going off track. When this happens, you can hit the pause button, share what you’ve noticed, and reset the conversation by restating your original goal.
Finally, take the time to conduct a rational examination of the facts before you head into the conversation by examining the actual evidence that supports your story.
Consider the range of possibilities for the other person’s actions, starting from the premise that they are a rational and reasonable human being, in order to find logical explanations for their behavior.
Get Clear on Facts, Inferences, and Impact
The facts are the most persuasive part of your story. Describe the inferences you’ve drawn from these facts tentatively, knowing the other person’s perspective needs to be valued.
Be clear about the facts, your inferences, and how the two align with impact. This helps separate the person from the problem and ensures the conversation focuses on what is most important about this situation.
Listen with an Open Mind
Listening requires you to be open to alternate views of the situation and be prepared to work towards developing a shared understanding of the issue.
Demonstrate your interest in the other person’s perspectives by asking open-ended questions, sharing your agreement on perspectives concisely, and offering sincere apologies when appropriate.
Successfully navigating through Critical Conversations requires building an approach that is aligned to meeting your goals. Download our copy of the Critical Conversation approach for a more comprehensive description of this process. The download includes additional skills and strategies and a worksheet to help you prepare for your next Critical Conversation.
What’s the Critical Conversation you need to have this week?
Need support? We’re passionate in our executive and leadership coaching about ensuring you are well prepared for a successful Critical Conversation.
Mark is the co-founder of Kesa Inc. He holds a MA in Leadership from Royal Roads University and is an ICF Certified Executive Coach. Mark’s first career was as a highly successful national champion college coach working in both team and individual sports and brings that experience to his work in organizations over the past 20 years. He is outstanding and sought after presenter.