Can We Talk? (about something really important)
A Guest Post by Grant Ainsley of Grant Ainsley, Inc.
One of the things I like about Saturday Night Live is, not only are some of its skits really funny, but they also make you think about society. A great example came last Saturday when Will Ferrell was part of a skit that featured a few couples having dinner when one of the women brought up the real-life story about actor Aziz Ansari, who hosted SNL last fall. I chuckled as each time someone in the skit started to talk about the sexual nature of the story, somebody would express alarm or take offence, regardless of how softly a statement was made.
That happens in real life. It's part of the change in society to be less judgmental, understanding and what some would call politically correct. That's why having an important conversation with somebody in the workplace has become so challenging.
We need to have difficult conversations though to move organizations forward, so here's a five-step plan to go through before you have your next important discussion.
Why Communication With Your Boss Sucks
I wrote a blog last week called Why Communication With Your Boss Sucks. It was very well read, according to my numbers from Google. I like to think it’s because the content was really strong, but it may just have been the catchy title. Either works I guess. The blog basically looked at two workplace surveys. One was a survey of employees and it showed the top three things people don’t like about their jobs relate to communication. Number one was poor communication with the boss. The other survey involved managers and it revealed almost 70% of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with employees when they have to do performance reviews and other managerial tasks. Those two surveys clearly show why workplace communication is such a problem. I made a couple of suggestions how I thought communication could be improved, but I didn’t have the space to go into detail about what people should do before they have an important conversation. Today I will.
My 5-Step Process
I believe before a manager speaks to an employee about something important, or vice versa, or before anyone has a crucial conversation with somebody from outside their organization, they should take a few minutes and go through a process to be prepared to get the most out of the conversation. My five-step process is built around five words – Plan, Practice, Listen, Counter and Close. This video tells the story quite well.
There are a few things the video didn’t cover, so let me provide a few more details. When you plan your crucial conversation, think about the one thing you want to get out of it. Doing that really helps you focus on the most important outcome of the discussion. Let’s say you’re a boss and want to change an employee’s behavior. If you decide that’s what you need to get out of the conversation, it becomes much easier to deal with the uncomfortable nature of the discussion, because knowing what you want becomes much like a goal. It also helps you measure the success of the conversation. Did you get what you wanted out of it, or to put it another way, were you successful in changing behavior?
Although it may be awkward, verbalize what you plan to say during the conversation. Say the words out loud. Do it in your office with the door closed, or under your breath at your desk if you don’t have a private space. You’ll find when you know what you plan to say, before you say it, you will say it better and much more confidence and conviction.
Listening is something you can’t do as you prepare, because it obviously needs to occur during the conversation. However, you can prepare some questions for the other person and then plan to allow the other person to speak. Questions control conversations. Just make sure you’re prepared to listen to the answer.
Take a moment to consider objections that the other person will likely make as a result of what you have to say. Hopefully the other person will agree with what you’re saying, or at least not have a problem with it. Unfortunately though, that’s not always human nature. It’s easier for people to blame someone or something else for a problem, or suggest that somebody else is a bigger offender than they are. Make sure you keep the discussion on track and not about something else.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to wrap up the meeting as quickly as possible. Make sure you and the other person are crystal clear on what was discussed, what the plan of action is, dates to meet again are penciled in and anything that that allows both of you to fully understand where you stand. You have gone to the effort to prepare properly for the meeting and go through a difficult discussion, so take a little extra time to make sure you know what was agreed to. Plan, practice, and counter before the meeting and make sure you listen and close during the meeting and you’ll get a lot more out of crucial conversations. It might not be fun, but it should be beneficial.
Grant Ainsley is a former award-winning journalist and public relations professional who now works with politicians, business executives, association leaders and others to help refine their messages. He has spoken across the country about the news media, spending much of his time conducting media training sessions for organizations. He also does workshops for executives to improve their communication skills. Ainsley spent almost three decades in the news media, public relations and association management. His first career was in radio and for the majority of that time he was News and Public Affairs Director of 96 K-Lite Radio in Edmonton. In addition to managing the newsroom and assignments for reporters, he handled morning news anchor duties and either hosted or produced a daily talk show. Later, he was in charge of Public Relations for the City of Edmonton’s Public Works department and its 1,500 employees. While there, he was responsible for communications as Edmonton launched Canada’s first curbside waste recycling program. Ainsley then moved into association management and for over a decade was CEO of the Alberta branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. In all three careers, he won national awards for his work. During his time in the media, Ainsley interviewed some of the most prominent names in Canada at the time, including Wayne Gretzky, John Chretien, John Candy, Rick Hansen and many others. He’s the author of the book The Honest Spin Doctor about media relations and lives in Edmonton, Alberta where he was born and raised.