Nailing difficult conversations (part 2 of 3)

21st March 2023

Last week, we agreed the two steps to mastering difficult conversations are:

  1. SCRIPT – work out in advance what you’ll say
  2. PRACTICE – practice saying this script out loud (20-30 times?) until it feels natural

This week, we’ll look at the first of these in more detail – creating the script.

All your difficult conversations will either be initiated:

  1. by you, or
  2. by someone else

When it’s you, it’s easier to script! Because you can prepare in advance. A good template is:

  1. Quick intro – get straight to your difficult message. Don’t make yourself feel better with a 5-minute-long intro – that doesn’t help anyone. Something as simple as “there’s no easy way to say this, but…” might be all you need
  2. Say the difficult thing – identify the best words to use, to convey your message as impactfully, empathetically and quickly as possible
  3. Ask a question – this allows the other person to speak. You get to hear their initial thoughts. You can then react to them. It’s nicer for both of you. Also when you end with a question, it forces you to shut up! (Always good, if these things make you nervous, so you babble on)

When it’s the second situation – someone else initiating it – it can be harder to script. After all, they initiated it – you might not have known it was coming!

Of course, if it’s something you could foresee they’d say, you can prepare for that. And again, there’s a three-step approach:

  1. Assertive – ensure your opening is impactful, keeps you on the front foot
  2. Short – make the middle as short and persuasive as possible
  3. Question – same reasoning as above – we always want to hand the ball back to them

Example: if someone’s first question is “How much do you charge?”, I don’t want to list a menu of everything I do and all the prices – that’d be dreadful for everyone. So instead, my script is:

“(Assertive) I don’t know. (Short) It depends what you want. And I don’t want you to pay for things you don’t need! (Question) Please can I ask you a few quick questions, to see where I can best help. I’ll then be able to tell you the price of that – sound fair?”

And I even have a script for the difficult things I wasn’t expecting…

“(Assertive) That’s a great question! (Short) I haven’t heard it before! (Question) Please can you help me understand why you asked that?”

Imagine if you had a scripted response to all people’s concerns/objections you’re likely to hear! Life sure would be a lot easier. Which means that this week’s…

Action Point

… is:

  1. For the difficult conversations you’re initiating, script in advance what you’ll say
  2. For the difficult conversations you think others might initiate, script how you’ll reply when they do
  3. For the difficult conversations that surprise you, script how you’ll reply to these, to buy yourself time

Yes, these will take a bit of time. But they’re much quicker than the alternative: not scripting them, not handling them well, and then having to spend hours dealing with the fall-out!

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