Carol Vernon, certified executive coach, principal of Communication Matters, discusses how to prepare for a high-stakes conversation and how to get better at those talks that you'd much rather avoid.
How can a person prepare for a high-stakes conversation?
The key thing going into one—and, surprisingly, lots of everyday conversations can be high stakes—is to identify the needs of the person or persons you're talking with, as opposed to simply identifying your need. What do you need to get out of the conversation, and what does the other person need? How do you want to be perceived by this person? What will she hear between your words, what will she be listening for—and perhaps even seeking confirmation on—and how will she get it from you?
What are our inner dialogues, and how can they affect these conversations?
Our inner dialogues are the private conversations we have with ourselves. They're a byproduct of our past experiences and our current thinking. In high-stakes conversations, we need to take time before the conversation to question our inner dialogue: What assumptions are we making before we even begin the conversation? What can get in the way of having the real conversation?
How can people get better at having tough talks?
Try thinking back to an important conversation you've had over the last month, perhaps around your workload or a particularly sensitive conversation about someone's behavior. What private conversation did you have with yourself before the actual conversation? Did you truly consider the other person's needs, or were you only focused on your own needs? What were you thinking and feeling but did not say? High-stakes conversations that don't start with clarity about needs and inner dialogue often are the ones we walk away from feeling dissatisfied. Conversations that meet mutual needs and challenge our assumptions lead to real outcomes.