Tough Conversations Need Specific Preparation

Imagine this scenario: Your boss presents your report in a meeting and does not acknowledge your work. This annoys you but you chalk it up to an oversight. A few weeks later, your boss again presents your work and lets others assume he had something to do with it. This time, you feel the slight is on purpose and you are annoyed. The final straw is when your boss's boss acknowledges the great work on the report and gives your boss all the credit. Now you are hot under the collar. You know it's time to have one of those tough conversations with your boss.

Sometimes having a difficult discussion means the difference between being unhappy and creating a more productive situation in the long run. Depending on the circumstances, you could gain more respect, open better communication channels or even win a promotion—all good things.

To emerge from this kind of conversation unscathed, you need to execute three smart moves, says TheMuse.com, which we'll share in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

1. Never go into a difficult conversation unprepared. Think long and hard about what, exactly, you want to accomplish and how you want to focus your energy. Use your resources to address significant misunderstandings or problems professionally and thoroughly, letting the small stuff go. Also, prioritize what you want to say, starting with the most important points.

2. Bring evidence. Does your boss think you messed up the department budget? Login to your budget system to show him or her where you stand as you talk through it, instead of just saying, "It's fine! I did everything right." Is your staff member making the same design mistake over and over? Bring copies of the drafts and your notes from previous meetings to back up your remarks.

3. Find your sense of calm, and keep your cool. This can be tough if you feel like you've been wronged or you're really frustrated but barging into someone's office full of rage only exacerbates the problem. Consider the other person's point of view. Your boss may have some valid points. If you can find common ground, you're more likely to be taken seriously. Practice your talking points so you are calm and collected when it's time for the real conversation with your boss.

Below is one example of how these tips might work based on the situation where your boss is impeding your progress:

Set up a meeting, practice addressing the topic in a composed manner, and then go into the appointment with confidence, armed with evidence. Begin the conversation graciously and acknowledge your desire to do good work. Then, in a respectful way, be honest about the problem and how it's affecting your performance. It might also be appropriate to ask if there's something that you're missing.

Here's how it might go: Mike, thanks for making time to sit down with me. You know how important the product launch is, and therefore, how important it is to me. I'm really struggling to move forward, though, and part of the problem is [insert the issue, in a professional and non-attacking way]. I'd really like us to find a way for me to be as productive as possible. I have a couple of ideas and would love to hear your thoughts too.

Could we talk about striking a balance that will keep you [whatever your boss needs to stay informed or to maintain some flexibility with clients], but be a bit easier for me to manage? [Insert your suggestion here and listen for your boss' feedback. This will allow you to you wrap up with a concrete plan for improvement that addresses both of your needs.]

No matter the situation, it's essential to plan ahead, be calm and prepared, and demonstrate a professional demeanor. Tough conversations will still be tough, but with the right approach, they can also be productive.

Source: Caris Thetford is a counselor and contributor to TheMuse.com. She is fanatical about personal growth and development, and is particularly interested in encouraging women to reach their full potential. She encourages student development through various roles at Tarleton State University.

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