Nailing difficult conversations (part 3 of 3)

28th 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

Last week we explored the best structure for scripts. This week explains how best to practise saying them.

(Usually, at this point, people say “Andy – shut up. I really don’t need guidance on how to practise. I just have to… you know, practise”)

Well, yes. But…

… Just because people think they know what to do… doesn’t mean they do it.

Here’s the best way to practise:

(Quick reminder first: difficult conversations are verbal things. So you have to practise verbally. As in, say your scripts out loud. So, don’t just think through the script in your head. Instead, actually open your mouth and say it)

There are four steps to mastery:

  1. ALONE – your first practice will probably be on your own. Find a room (where nobody can hear you!) and say it out loud. I do this at least 20-30 times per script, until it starts feeling natural
  2. FRIEND – then, find a friend you can roleplay with. Ask the friend to pretend to be the person you’ll be having the difficult convo with, and ask them to be gentle with you! So, after you’ve said your script, they’ll reply in a friendly way, and then you’ll roleplay the rest of the conversation.. Practise that a few times until it feels comfortable
  3. ENEMY – re-do the roleplay; but this time ask your colleague to respond in a more hostile way. Roleplay how you’ll respond to their hostile response! Again practise it until it feels natural
  4. SURPRISE – some of your scripts will relate to how you’ll respond to awkward questions/comments. (For example, a salesperson having to respond to customers’ price objections). These objections often come at surprising times. So, the best way for you to prepare for them? Ask your roleplay partner to surprise you! Give them permission to contact you any time they like and say “this is too expensive” – can you respond in the moment in an impressive way?

Do you need to do all four of these steps? Well, it depends how brilliant you want to be at this.

But remember: your best, easiest, quickest, nicest option is to invest some time practising.

Doing so is much quicker than having to deal with the fall-out when things go wrong.

Action Point

Difficult conversations are verbal things. So, practise them verbally! Do as much practice as you need (ALONE/FRIEND/ENEMY/SURPRISE) until you know you’ll be brilliant when it matters.

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