Helping leaders emerge


How to Have a Critical Conversation

Give me six hours to chop down a cherry tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.  
—Abraham Lincoln

Many clients use the following worksheet and framework (thinking through and writing down their thoughts) before an important meeting—which results in a more intentional conversation, better relationship management, and ultimately greater influence and impact to the business. Clients have also shared that this process helps manage some of the discomfort or anxiety associated with having a difficult or critical conversation.

What is a Critical Conversation©? (meets one or more of the below criteria) ©   

  1. Difficult: something hard to talk about is being discussed. The situation may be awkward and there may be potential for fear and anxiety around the conversation.
  2. Potential for Amygdala Hijack Situation: There are strong feelings and emotions about what’s being discussed and at least one of the parties could become triggered (flight, fight or freeze mode)
  3. Vulnerable: One or more of the parties might be worried about being exposed and not feel safe
  4. Different Point of Views and Different Stories: there are different perspectives about what has happened and what might need to happen
  5. High Stakes: The conversation that needs to happen will impact an important and uncertain outcome

Preparing for a Critical Conversation©? (answer the questions that are relevant to you)

  1. How do I want to “show up”? What are the three to five things I would like to hear my colleagues say about me after the meeting? (e.g., I listened, remained calm, was thoughtful in my responses, with a spirit of generosity, and brought a sense of humor to the meeting.)
  2. What do I want? What’s the preferred outcome of the conversation? What is my goal for this meeting? (in terms of a goal, focus on what is within your control, keeping in mind you can only control your own behavior and not the other person.)
  3. What does the other person want? What does a successful meeting look like from my colleague’s point of view?
  4. What is best for the relationship? What might I say or do in order to further enhance the relationship and lead to more trust?
  5. What is best for the business? What might I be willing to agree to—or let go of—in the short term in order to achieve greater long-term influence and impact to the business?
  6. How do I show up honest and respectful? How might my need to be liked (manage people pleasing tendencies) or be right be getting in the way of saying what needs to be said? Keep the focus on “getting it right” versus “being right”.
  7. How do I minimize drama? What do I need to refrain from saying that might trigger and make the other person feel defensive? What might the other person say that could make me feel defensive?
  8. How do I maintain leadership presence, self-manage and remain calm? What could the other person say that might make me feel defensive? How will I prepare myself for the meeting (deep breaths, take a short walk, write down my goals, etc.) and what will I do so I don’t go into reactive mode? If I do get triggered, how will I get centered again? (e.g., suggest coffee or bathroom break, take three deep breaths, feel my feet on the ground, etc.).
  9. Listen and be empathetic: How will I demonstrate that I’m listening to the other person? What’s my body language and tone communicating? What are some of the signs that my colleague is becoming triggered (tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.) and needs a break to get centered and grounded?

© Quartner and Associates, LLC 2020