Have you been dodging an important conversation? The kind of conversation that may be uncomfortable, in a situation that you wish would just take care of itself? Are you dancing around a subject, being less direct, less candid than you really should be because you fear conflict or don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Preparing for candid conversations can be hard.
You know what’s going to happen, right? As a result of not being candid, we can let situations like this stew and brew until they erupt and end up causing more damage than was necessary. It’s only a matter of time before one of you gets so frustrated by what’s unspoken that you will say things that shouldn’t be said instead of having a candid conversation about what needs to be discussed.
But you’d rather risk handling a ticking time bomb than put in the time and effort and emotional risk of having THAT conversation. I know. I’ve felt the same way at times. You’ll have to weigh the stakes of speaking up versus letting this one fester. Just don’t wimp out if the stakes of doing so are greater than those few moments of discomfort required to initiate the conversation.
If you decide to go for it, to have a candid conversation, here are some tips that may make it more productive. (I didn’t say these would make it any easier, but that is a possibility. … for now, let’s focus on at least getting somewhere with the conversation.)
First, know what it means to be candid. It’s doesn’t mean you have the green light to be unkind or to go on the attack. In fact, to be effective at being candid, you have to put some real thought and objectivity into your preparation. Candor means “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward.” The synonyms for candor are: matter-of-fact, frank, flat-out, plainspoken, straightforward, direct. It’s all about being truthful in a way that someone else can find constructive support in what you say to them.
Preparing for a Candid Conversation: 7 Checks
To prepare yourself for candid conversations, take these seven steps before you tackle the conversation. These will boost your confidence and help you reign in your emotions. Going into the conversation with the right intent minimizes the other party’s defensiveness and means the conversation is less likely to devolve into an emotionally-charged exchange.
- Have clarity of purpose.
- Identify emotional triggers.
- Check your assumptions.
- Focus on the positive outcomes.
- Consider the other perspective.
- Organize your thoughts and back up your key points with specifics and examples.
- Plan for “We” and “I” (not “You”) statements.
These are simple preparations. We often shortchange their importance because we are acting on our own emotion or we feel we’re too time-taxed to take these steps. But it’s charging into these candid conversations without being thoughtfully prepared that becomes a time drain. Not only does the conversation itself take longer, but we put obstacles and hurt feelings in our relationships that may take a long time to heal. It is worth the time to think and prepare before you speak candidly.
Preparing for Candid Conversations: 4 Neutral Statement Ideas
So now you’re ready for the conversation… Be sure to open it up with a neutral statement, one that doesn’t accuse or blame. Here are some ideas for good openings:
- “I’d like to discuss ______. And I’d like to start by understanding your point of view.”
- “I think we have different perceptions about _______. Tell me your thoughts.”
- “I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more efficiently.”
- “Let’s talk about what just happened.”
You’ll notice that these conversations start by being inclusive and open. You’ll be operating with an assumption that there really are two sides to every story. Rather than entering into the conversation to force your own agenda, you are seeking first to understand. To do that throughout the conversation, you’ll want to inquire with an open mind. Then you should acknowledge the other party’s position and that you’ve heard and understood what they had to say. Don’t race through these first two steps –-- they are extremely important because we all just want to be heard and understood.
Once you’ve truly heard and understood, you can advocate your position without attacking the other party’s position. This isn’t about a point-for-point competition. In fact, there may be aspects of the situation where you are both right. So consider collaborating to build a mutually agreeable solution. If the conversation does become adversarial, go back to one of the opening statements and follow this process through again and again.
Maintain your own objectivity throughout. If emotions get out of control, call a time out and refocus on your preparation steps. Remind yourself that you want a productive outcome and a preserved relationship more than you want to have your emotional release. Tirades, dressings down, woe-is-me whining, and tears won’t get you want you really want from this conversation. Keep yourself in check.
Preparing for Candid Conversations: 8 Cautions
Here’s a list of cautions. You’ll know you’re going too far outside the boundaries and that the conversation is becoming unproductive if:
- You don’t maintain objectivity.
- You resort to blaming or shaming.
- You use superlatives (always, never).
- You do not offer specifics & examples.
- You beat around the bush.
- You minimize and apologize.
- You “protect” someone from the truth.
- Your message is not clear.
You can do this. You have the time, and you have the spine. All you need to do is prepare yourself and proceed.
Deb Calvert is a TLC Certified Master and expert on the evidence-based Five Exemplary Practices of Leaders. Book Deb today to speak at your leadership events, and subscribe to our blog for weekly articles on how to improve your leadership skills.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published May 2016 and has been recently updated.