Irving Goldfinger, IT Director, Treasury & Capital Markets
One of the most challenging tasks during any project is managing difficult conversations. Cultivating positive conversations under pressure, or when delivering less than desirable news, requires preparation, experience and skill. The following techniques can be used to approach a difficult conversation.
6 Techniques to Optimize Your Conversation
1. Use the Correct Words
- Speak to “our partnership,” “our challenge,” “our project,” and “we share common goals.”
- Use terms like “important for project success,” “critical path to go-live,” and “in the best interest of all parties.”
- Point to positive historical milestones “as you know, together we achieved all of our goals during the first phase of the project,” and “we have been a great team for a long time now.”
- Praise the entire team’s commitment and contribution to the project “…and the members of project team, from both organizations, have been amazing.”
2. Take Ownership
- Own up to the problem. Remember that there is no such thing as “not your fault”, even when it is not your fault. Take ownership of the problem at the start of the meeting. This pre-emptive strike will help disarm the audience, who may have been prepared for a battle.
- “As the Project Manager, I am completely accountable” are often the magic words that the audience is desperate to hear.
- Engage the audience’s assistance - “We need YOUR help to address our current challenge.”
3. Listen Before You Speak
- Allow the audience to verbally release frustration at the start of the conversation.
- Do not interrupt the initial volley of complaints. Let the speakers get their frustrations off of their chests.
- Allow everyone to confess their sins, and then, confess yours. “There is enough fault to go around...”
- Take notes to show that their feedback is very important to you.
4. Show Compassion, Humility, Sincerity, and Understanding
- Start with “I completely understand your frustration.”
- Admit to “we definitely need to improve our performance in this area, and very soon…”
- Start sentences with “as you correctly pointed out, we are not where we all expected to be, at this point in the project.”
- Show that the situation is disturbing to your sense of professionalism and accomplishment.
5. Bring “Friends” to the Meeting
- Identify others (friends) who can “help” with the conversation and ask them to participate.
- Invite senior management when addressing a more junior level audience.
- If the audience is a big fan of a particular member of your team, bring him/her along.
6. When Possible, Dictate the Meeting Venue
- Find a neutral venue away from the office. A meeting at Starbuck’s, over a cup of coffee, will usually be less hostile.
- Remove the audience from their comfort zone where they are usually “in charge.”
Even the most experienced professional can feel nervous entering a difficult conversation. Preparing yourself ahead of time and using these proven techniques will maximize your chance to achieve a favorable outcome.
For more information contact Irv Goldfinger (Actualize Consulting)
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