‘I think it is time I ask my boss for a promotion. It’s been 4 years. I have sacrificed much for this job. I sincerely think I deserve it as I am already doing the work of a manager at the moment’, Says Sumal.
‘You should. What’s the problem?’ asks his colleague from a different department.
‘It’s not that easy; I am not used to asking for things. We have a good relationship now. I don’t want to spoil it in anyway, but having said that, I feel demotivated because I don’t feel appreciated’, adds Sumal with frustration.
‘ Well, it’s time for that crucial conversation don’t you think? No one remembers the cowards’, says his colleague.
Asking for a promotion from your boss in the next performance management discussion? Convincing someone to leave or to stay? Winning a contract with a client or closing a sale? These are all critical conversations. Persuading someone to go out with you on a date or even break up with you? That conversation to describe, explain and reconcile the differences in a relationship? That very first meeting with your in-laws? These are all critical conversations.
So why is it that even when you know that the conversation is critical in advance, that sometimes you fail in convincing the other party;saying the wrong thing in the wrong place, not understanding the emotional state of the other party and yours to begin with. The post- regret-stress, the ‘should have’s, the ‘would have’s and the ‘could have’s; we’ve been through it at some stage in our lives.
Generally, during a highly important conversation, you are biologically alert to protect yourselves rather than to be rational in your exchange of thoughts. You know that a conversation is crucial when your/their emotions are strong, you/they expect someone to disagree or agree with you/or when the outcome can greatly impact your/their life.According to research, some of the reasons for handling critical conversations poorly are (1) biology: high adrenaline, high blood flow to arms and legs (that will prompt one to either fight or flee), and low blood flow to brain (2) situations rising without warning, thereby catching us by surprise that creates confusion: the situations that require us to improvise, often without rehearsal time with limited information.
Research suggests that success on a critical conversation relies on the ability to communicate openly about difficult topics. Conversations that are crucial should neither be rushed in to nor avoided completely. People become defensive not because of the content of the dialogue but because of the intent they think the dialogue is about.
One of the most important skills we need to practice before a vital conversation is to identify what needs to be said first, as it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. The first 30 seconds are crucial where mutual trust needs to be created by showing that you care about them; show respect through body language and be convinced that what you are asking is not unfair by anyone. Focus on what you want and in the conversational flow of the relevant information, hold on to what you want without withholding your opinion or arguing against others opinions. State your path and explore the paths of others. Being involved in a dialogue without fighting back allows the conversation to be safe. It is important that you maintain a secure atmosphere if you want to be heard.
Apologize and empathize if others feel disrespected in the conversation and look for a mutual purpose that will motivate them to listen to your concerns. When you are at the stage of making decisions, make sure that it is not driven by one individual agenda but by an outcome of a mutual agreement. Finally, note the commitments, take responsibility of the promises you make, and move to action.
In most of today’s world, where leaders are smart, confident, and highly paid, people tend to hold back their opinions rather than risk infuriating someone in a state of such power. This is also common in a collectivist society like ours when many of us keep quiet or unwillingly agree to decisions made by others leading to a sense of helplessness when decisions are being made. This ‘learnt helplessness’ over a period of time gives way to a very authoritative culture with a lack in creativity, out of the box thinking and challenge to seek greater quality.
One does not have to be an extrovert, out- going and domineering to be able to carry out effective crucial conversations. Ask yourself before you enter the conversation; What do I really want for myself? What do I really want for others? What do I really want from this relationship? How would I behave if I am really keen on the results that I want?
Think; be logical, rational and realistic. Study the emotions involved without being enslaved by them. It is tough till you master it but practise is everything.
Rozaine is a Business Psychologist specialized in organizational culture analytics and HR Coaching. She can be contacted on [email protected]