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How to Eat an Elephant - A Survival Guide for Difficult Conversations

By Tiffany Chepul

    Wed, Sep 18, 2013 @ 08:00 AM Strategies for Growth, Annual & Quarterly Planning

    With Q4 just around the corner, many teams are getting ready for their quarterly planning sessions.  During your session, inevitably, there will be some elephants in the room that will need to be addressed.  As we talked about here before - Get Aligned! Don't let Elephants Derail Your Business Execution!, it's best to address those elephants head on.  

    Whether you are a participant in a difficult discussion or simply facilitating one, it's easier if you have some tools in your back pocket.

    Ron McMillan's Crucial Conversations provides some great tips and insights forBook Ron McMillan%27s Crucial Conversations participating in difficult discussions:

    • Start with the heart and focus on what you really want.  What do I want for me? What do I want for others? What do I want for this relationship? Pause to think about these questions before the conversation begins.
    • Look for signs that it is getting crucial.  Look for your own style under stress.  Are you going to silence or violence?  How are others reacting?
    • Create a safe environment.  Establish a Mutual Purpose and apologize when necessary.  Contrast to fix misunderstanding.
    • Master your stories.  Separate fact from story.  What is your story?  What are you pretending not to know about your role in the problem?  
    • STATE your pathShare your facts.  Tell your story. Ask for others' paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing.  Am I confidently expressing my views?  Am I talking about the real issue? Am I really open to others' views?
    • Explore others' paths.  Ask.  Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime.  Am I actively exploring others' views?
    • Move to action.  Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up.

    Patrick Thean recently provided me some great tips on how to facilitate a crucial conversation:

    1. Focus participants on the MAIN ISSUE, not the Symptoms.  Focus their discussion on the issue itself, not all the little things.

    2. Get to the heart... the “What.”  What truly is the issue? Ask questions to help the team get there.

    3. Dial down the emotions.  If discussion gets too emotionally charged, refocus discussion back on the issue.

    4. Call Time Out.  It's okay to interject for a time out to get the team back on track if guidelines 1-3 get off track.

    5. Do not engage by taking sides.  Be careful not to take sides.  However, if asked a question, answer it truthfully. 

    6. Ask each person to share what they learned at the end of the discussion.  This is a great way to move the discussion to a close.  Ask the team what was learned from the discussion and document it on a whiteboard or flip chart.

    7. End on a victory - what did they achieve? How did they win?  Find a positive and call it out - even if the only victory is that they had the discussion.

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