Framework for Having Transformational Conversations

Relationships are messy.  Our clients often ask us for help having difficult or courageous conversations.  We challenge them to have transformational conversations instead.  Here are a couple of recent examples:

  • A high performing employee asked for a raise. She is awesome and does great work and we’re short staffed.  But we’re also facing massive budget cuts and giving her a raise would be incredibly bad optics for the organization.  And, I don’t want to risk losing her.
  • My contractor is inflating my bills. I appreciate the work he’s doing and we’re at the end of the job and I don’t want to lose him.  But, I’m getting billed for a lot of things I didn’t agree to.
  • One of our consultants isn’t doing a good job and needs to be reassigned. Everyone loves her and nobody wants to hurt her feelings, but the project is suffering.  She’s an internal consultant and the relationship with her boss and her team is really important to us and we don’t want to risk damaging it.
  • It has become apparent that our vendor isn’t capable of delivering on their promises. We are contracted for the next year but want to unwind the contract and sever the agreement.
  • My executive coaching client wants me available 24/7 and regularly asks for calls after 5pm and on weekends. He wants me at all of his team meetings.  He hasn’t paid his bills since March.  His business is suffering, and I want to continue to provide support, but I am feeling resentful of the time he’s asking for.
  • We have been billing our client for extra crisis coaching since March. They originally asked for it and authorized it but didn’t realize it was still going on.  They are frustrated with the lack of clarity around the agreement and with the added fees that feel unexpected.
  • One of our executives is tone deaf and makes inappropriate comments to women and people of color.  He is great at his job and has been with the company for 20+ years.
  • Some of our white male employees are complaining that they’re feeling discriminated against in our anti-racism training.

In every single one of these examples, we used the following framework to support our clients.

Start by getting clear about:

  1. Impact: How do you want the other person to feel?
  2. Outcome: What do you want them to do?

If you start by reminding yourself how you don’t want to make someone feel, that can often help you avoid unintended impact.  Most of us don’t want to make people feel bad, stupid, unappreciated, painted into a corner, or resentful.  Instead, we generally want people to feel appreciated, heard, understood, supported, and valued.

We often don’t know what we want to do about it. So, it is our work to figure that out before the conversation.  You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) have it all figured out.  But it is good to be clear about any requests you have, any questions you have, and anything you’d like to figure out together.

When you have this all figured out and you are ready to have the conversation, we recommend this framework as a guide:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What do you want?  Or what do you want to figure out together?
  4. Is there anything else?

What’s working?

It is important to start with acknowledging that everything is not a problem and that there are things that are going well.  Share what you appreciate and what you value.  Acknowledge the other person’s strengths, challenges, values, contributions,  and commitments.

What’s not working?

Nobody seems to need any help figure this part out.  But there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t ask questions that don’t have good answers.  Examples:  What were you thinking? Why are you taking advantage of me?
  • Don’t label other people. Examples:  You’re selfish.  You’re mean.  You’re a liar.  You’re a bully.  You’re a pushover.  You’re a racist.
  • Don’t assign feelings to other people.
  • Ask how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking instead of assuming.
  • Don’t invalidate people’s feelings.  Example:  “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
  • Don’t make excuses for other people’s bad behavior.  Example:  “She didn’t mean anything by it.”
  • Never in the history of conflict has telling someone to “calm down” actually resulted in them calming down.  You can say, “Please don’t yell at me.  If we need to take a break and talk later, I’m okay with that.”

What do you want?

Make a request, not a demand.  Ask for other ideas on how to solve your problems.  Think about values.  Try to come from a place of values in the conversation and honor both your values and the other person’s.  Give them the space to be their best selves.

But, also remember that people will violate their values to meet their needs.  If someone’s not making enough money to support himself, he may be trying to figure out how to pay his rent and get his car repaired. He might not behave according to your values or, even, his own if his basic needs aren’t met.

Is there anything else?

What didn’t get covered?  What still remains unsaid?

I hope this helps you have some of those difficult conversations!  If you need help talking through your specific situation, let us know.  One of our coaches would be happy to help.

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