Too often we find ourselves talking around issues. For lots of reasons we leave meetings without saying what has to be said — and then we engage in the ‘side conversation’. Perhaps you’ve experienced the side conversation: ‘Can you believe what just happened in that meeting?’ Rather than speaking up, we rely on the side conversation to share our perspectives. We know it’s not productive, but how do you have the real conversation, say what has to be said, and still maintain relationships and be professional?
The key thing going into a high-stakes conversation (and surprisingly lots of everyday conversations can be high stakes) is to identify the needs of the person/s 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?
All of us have our own inner dialogues. Our inner dialogues are the private conversations we have with ourselves. They’re a by-product 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.
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 or effectiveness. What private conversation did you have with yourself before the actual conversation? Did you truly consider the other person’s needs or were you focused on ensuring your needs were heard? 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 – and lead to side conversations. Conversations that meet mutual needs and challenge our assumptions lead to real conversations.