A bad beginning can crater the conversation. But a good one helps you immensely.
Why Our Typical Openings Don’t Help
Don’t dive in with what you have in mind.
We Begin Inside Our Own Story
Don’t start with your story from your perspective. If they agreed with your story, there wouldn’t be a need for the conversation.
We Trigger Their Identity Conversation From The Start
Our story usually has a judgment embedded.
Step One: Begin From The Third Story
The third story is from a relatively disinterested 3rd party.
Think Like a Mediator
Mediator, not arbitrator! (S)he can describe the problem in a way that rings true for both parties. It’s easy to describe it for only one side. It is hard to describe it for all sides. Aim for this.
Not Right or Wrong, Not Better or Worse, Just Different
Key: Learn to describe the gap: The difference between your story and the other person’s story. Just a description. No judgment.
Important: You need not know the other person’s story to start this way! Just guess it and state it tentatively. The other side will notice you’re trying. Acknowledge you don’t really know but would like to find out.
If They Start The Conversation, You Can Still Step To The Third Story
Take what the other person says and use it as their half of a description from the third story.
Step Two: Extend An Invitation
Describe Your Purposes
Let them know up front that the goal is to understand the other person better and share your own, and talk about how to go forward.
Make it known that this isn’t a campaign to change them.
Invite, Don’t Impose
You cannot force a conversation. Your goal is not to set the purpose of the conversation. It is to offer and discuss a possible purpose. Setting it is a joint task.
Make Them Your Partner In Figuring It Out
The other side needs a role in managing the problem. Do not make it seem like they are the problem (e.g. “Since you’re new here…”)
Ask “Can you help me understand…?”
You may want to share your internal struggle in casting them in a positive role.
But not imposing
Some Specific Kinds of Conversations
Delivering Bad News
If you have bad news to deliver, state it up front.
“I wonder if it would make sense…” Do not make it a demand. Invite exploration on whether a raise is fair or makes sense. You do not know if you deserve a raise without hearing your boss’s side. This is why you are anxious about it.
Revisiting Conversations Gone Wrong
You know some people are hypersensitive about something (from past experience).
Talk About How To Talk About It
“The way things usually go when we try to have this conversation…” is the problem you are trying to solve. Describe it from the third story.
A Map For Going Forward: Third Story, Their Story, Your Story
What To Talk About: The Three Conversations
Talk about past experiences, intentions, impact of their behavior on you. The identity conversation
Explore Where Each Story Comes From
“My reactions have a lot to do with my experiences in a previous job”
Take Responsibility For Your Contributions
“There are a number of things I’ve done to make it worse”
“I’m anxious to bring it up, at the same time, we need to talk about it”
Reflect on the Identity Issues
“This issue concerns me because I don’t like thinking of myself as someone who…”