Resolving Tough Conversations #principals

Defuse exclamations--match them with a question that shows a willingness to listen. You can flip a tough conversation on its head to the benefit of all involved. But how? This blog entry explores that.
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Later this week, I'll have the opportunity to participate in a presentation--that I didn't really help create, so I'm presenting based only on what's in the slide assigned to me--entitled Crucial Conversations, which appears unrelated to the book series I'm always touting on this blog. That said, "crucial conversations" is a phrase that certainly catches the attention of folks, especially leaders and managers. The question is, What do you do when you have a crucial conversation with folks?

In the slide below, which is only one of many slides replete with advice, you can see the points I have to work through. Since my part of the presentation--just this one slide of several--is on Thursday, the question I'm asking myself is how do I introduce this portion of the slide show in a way that is impactful and connects with a perspective I can support?

One of the strategies I'm going to attempt is to use Dale Carnegie's 3 step Magic Formula. The formula looks like this:
STEP 1: Incident – What specific incident inspired the purpose surrounding of your topic?STEP 2: Action – What specific action do you want your listener/reader to take?STEP 3: Benefit – What specific benefits will your listeners/readers gain as a result of taking action?
It would be very simple to simply read the information off the slides. Instead, what I may do is see how I might share the information in the slide through a the end, I'll reflect on how well I did (or not). Your feedback would be helpful since my talk isn't until Thursday.

Step 1 - Incident that establishes purpose:
"Is there anything else that we need to discuss or that you would like to share that we haven't touched on in our conversation?" asked one teacher in a calm voice of another who's face was an angry red doing her level best to dial down tension. As I walked into the 1st grade hallway, I caught the question. Even then, the wisdom of it was obvious.
When I served as a member of a larger team, I had the opportunity to see one person ask this question of an angry co-worker being held accountable for NOT carrying her share of the load (e.g. lesson planning for the grade level). They had just had a heated exchange about responsibilities, and I'd stumbled into the conversation unawares. Apparently, I hadn't gotten the memo to clear the 1st grade hallway for the show-down. The power of that question, is there anything else that we need to discuss or you would like to share?, though has stuck with me over the years. And, that's why I'm sharing it with you today.

Step 2 - Specific action you want listeners to take:
At the end of a tough conversation, after you've taken care of what brought you together, probe for more issues that may lay below the surface. Like a weed with deep roots, if you don't get at the complete problem--you "leave it for another day"--it will rise again in a different form.

Sometimes, the problem people bring you isn't the problem that caused them to be vehemently angry, or disrespectful. Until that issue is resolved, conflict will continue. As a result, mine for conflict, and if you find none, then move to set clear, measurable objectives and a timeline for resolution.

Step 3 - Elaborate on the benefits:
The main benefit of mining for conflict is that you eliminate the need for future conversations about past issues. You are freed to plan for the present and future, and a timeline with clear, measurable objectives can make the difference between success or failure. Don't be afraid to ask the question, Who will do what by when?

Clarify measurable results. "Some is not a number, soon is not a time."  
-Don Berwick, tweetchat #vsreach
Source: Tweetchat with hashtag #vsreach

Resolving tough conversations presents an opportunity to settle, once and for all, the problems that plague your team. For the two teachers in the first grade hallways, it meant they could move forward together, knowing that they had established mutual purpose, and laid the groundwork for mutual respect.

Well, when I started this blog entry, I wasn't sure how I was going to approach this slide in the presentation. Using Dale Carnegie's magic formula gave me structure--which I learned when I was 17 years old, thanks to my parents' wisdom in recognizing I was a terribly shy young man--that I needed. I'm not sure that my application of the formula to the slide worked entirely well. What do you think?

Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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