5 Steps to a Direct Conversation
It’s a familiar scene. Sally is in your office hoping that you can fix John. Fred has come to you to vent about a problem with Joe. Rather than addressing the topic between themselves, HR gets involved.
Most Human Resources professionals have been in the difficult position of running “interference” between people who don’t know how to have a direct conversation. The missing element is a known tool that individuals throughout the organization can use to have a productive, direct conversation.
Having a direct conversation involves five key steps. To illustrate the steps, we’ll use the example of Joe, who is consistently late to meetings. While it seems trivial, quite a bit of drama surrounds punctuality.
First, state the observable facts around the energy-draining behavior.
These must be facts, not judgments or stories. At this point, start with, “Joe, at the last 3 department meetings you were 10 or more minutes late.” At this point you can’t say that Joe is always late, or that he’s inconsiderate when he’s tardy because these launch you into a debate rather than establishing the baseline facts of the situation.
Then, follow with the meaning you create from that set of facts.
These are your judgments, evaluations, or the stories you make up about the individual and the situation. Usually this statement starts with “I think…, “In my opinion…,” Or, “I feel that…” With Joe, you might state, “I feel that this is a pattern that shows disrespect to the team. In my opinion, this conveys that you think your time is more important than others’.”
The third, critical component of a direct conversation is to share your emotions regarding the dynamic.
While there are many lists of emotions, the set that covers the most common emotions in a direct conversation are: angry, scared, sad, ashamed, guilty, excited, numb and happy. It’s usually one of the first three of these. By sharing the emotion, the situation becomes both human (everyone feels these feelings sometimes) and prevents the emotion from going “underground” and erupting later. With Joe, you might express, “I feel frustrated (angry) every time you are late and worried (scared) that the team is fragmenting around it.”
The fourth step is to identify your part in creating the issue with this person.
This ensures that the direct conversation does not devolve into blaming or finger-pointing. Instead, share how you created or are sustaining the situation. With Joe, it could be that you never established an attendance policy or consequences for tardiness. It might be that your part is that you didn’t say anything the first time he was late. Or, you might not use the launch of your meeting well, which incentivizes tardiness.
Finally, state what you want—both from the other person and for yourself.
In this step, it’s important to be precise. There might be a request: “Joe, I want you to be on time to the meeting.” Or, you might discover a shared want, perhaps to feel valued in the organization and on the team, or to be productive and efficient.
Then it’s the other person’s turn to respond. Rather than the typical response of rationalization, justification or blaming the other person, coach them to listen just to understand. Your role is to guide the “Joe” in your company to reflect back what they heard from the other person – without interjecting their own interpretation. The goal is to comprehend the other’s views. Remind them: you don’t have to agree, just understand.
With this direct-conversation model, you can coach individuals to address issues between themselves, saving yourself time and energy. Plus, you might also brainstorm creative solutions to the issues!
Photo credit iStockphoto
About the authors: Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner are the authors of The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss. Follow them on Twitter and read more about their work with organizations at Drama Free Office.