This is is the third and, for now, the last in a series of tips on how to prepare for discussions which you know will be difficult.

Tip 3: Review applicable skills

I remember being faced with a particularly difficult meeting some time ago.  Feeling unsure about how to approach it, I broke out a “cheat sheet”.  It was a brief summary of Crucial Conversations. There’s so much in that book, sometimes its hard to remember all the ideas that may be relevant to a given situation.  In this particular case,  the most relevant section was on “how to make it safe to talk about almost anything”. Using that, and thinking about what I really wanted, helped me to realise that what I had to say wasn’t actually terribly confrontational after all – or at least, it wouldn’t be if I presented it carefully and honestly.

The helpful summary I used is here.  However, no summary can take the place of the actual book.  For instance one of the best skills in the book, “Contrasting”, doesn’t even appear in the summary.  So support the authors and buy the real book, then use the summary as a refresher.

I notice that the right approach seems to be different from one situation to the next – particularly when dealing with situations that I’m not very experienced in.  So it helps to think beforehand about the best way to approach it.  Having decided on the skills that best suit the situation,  I sometimes then make hand-written notes to remind me of the key points.  For instance: key ingredients to the “contrasting” approach; a key story to illustrate the basis for my concern; or a reminder to myself to ask enough questions to find out where others feel comfortable, and uncomfortable, with my proposal.  I don’t necessarily read the notes during the discussion, or even have them with me, but the act of making them helps to clarify things in my mind.

Bonus Tip 4: Adapt

Just because you’ve got things straight in your head before the discussion, doesn’t necessarily mean it will go in the direction you expect.  If the discussion takes a different path, be prepared to go with it.  You don’t have to drag it back to what you prepared for!  The next few posts will be about dealing with the unexpected.