7 Tips for Preparing for a Critical Conversation

I’ve said before that having a critical conversation with a teammate doesn’t have to be a negative encounter. I’ve had some of my best coaching and growth conversations with teammates during critical conversations.

We can remove a lot of our own anxiety in having these conversations by adequately preparing for them. It puts us more at ease, helps us clarify our message, and allows us to have a balanced perspective when talking to teammates.

I’ve blogged about having critical conversations in the past, but today I want to share seven additional tips that I’ve found helpful when preparing to have a critical conversation with a teammate.

  1. Prepare your message. Don’t wing it. Preparing for this conversation doesn’t take days. It just takes minutes. Find a quiet place with a blank piece of paper and list your areas of concern about your teammate’s activity that prompted the need for this conversation. This will help keep your face-to-face conversation focused.
  2. Prepare your mind. We often have a critical conversation because we’re disappointed or concerned with an employee’s performance. To balance your mind, think of a time when you were so appreciative of this employee. When did they please you or perform well? This will help you avoid going into the conversation with an unfair angry or negative attitude toward the employee. Crucial conversations are designed to be candid yet caring. Be “for” the person but candid about the desired actions.
  3. Prepare your teammate. Give the person a head’s up before your critical conversation so he too can prepare his mind. Say something like, “There are some things I’d like to talk about with you regarding your performance. I’d like you to come with an open mind to listen.” You don’t need to give details, but you also don’t want your employee caught off guard during the conversation. The timing of your heads up is important. This is simply a couple of hours or even 30 minutes. Don’t give them a Friday heads up for a Monday conversation. Let them decide how much time they need to ponder the conversation. Ask, can you meet later today or tomorrow? Most often they will want to meet sooner rather than later.
  4. Focus on the teammate. Remind yourself of this person’s values and strengths so you know how to have this conversation. Will they need specific examples? How can you motivate and not discourage? Different employees require different approaches. If they are a processor then they will need time to analyze their conduct. If they are highly relational then they will be up all night worried about improving. Depending on the situation you may want to schedule a 30 minute follow-up meeting the next day.
  5. Remember to manage results and lead people. Better performance can’t be forced; it must be understood and desired. Think through how you can influence your teammate to improve and the specific tasks they need to improve upon.
  6. Create a safe environment. You create a safe environment by starting it. You can’t force a teammate to be vulnerable. You must go first.
  7. Establish the expectations. What do you want the teammate to change or start doing after the conversation? Know how you will hold them accountable.

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