A Little Known Way to Prepare for A Tough Discussion

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership

I’ve been conducting training on manager/employee communication for years. In one class a few weeks ago I heard the same phrase over and over, and realized it holds the key to a breakthrough.

When it comes to thinking about initiating a discussion about a touchy subject, inevitably I hear some version of, “What I don’t want to happen is ________.”

“What I don’t want to happen is…”

  • For the other person to shut down
  • To not have the answers
  • For them to get emotional
  • For them to get mad
  • For me to get mad

There are a few ways you can deal with this.

The Obvious #1: Maneuver to minimize the likelihood your worst fear will be realized.

The Obvious #2: Focus on what you do want to happen.

After my recent class I realized there’s one more possibility. In fact, if you focus on this one it might turn into an entirely different discussion.

A less obvious, but powerful choice: Be open to whatever happens.

I’ve been a manager and coached many managers. Over time we get to the point where we are wary of particular behavior, like the other person becoming emotional, throwing accusations, expressing anger. We get psyched out by what we think will happen. Doing this, we give the other person all the power. Let me rephrase. We buy into the premise that “we are powerless” to their reaction.

To me it feels like I’m being held ransom when I’m overly focused what I don’t want to happen. If you are familiar with that feeling, I want to encourage you to be a leader. It doesn’t matter if you have the title. Empower yourself to face what you don’t want to happen beforehand and do what it takes to handle it if it does happen. This requires you to be in touch with your own baggage, your own projections, and your own ego. It’s tough self-development, but worth it.

Some questions to begin this process:

  • Am I blaming this person for anything? If so, what?
  • Is there anything like anger or resentment that I need to let go before the conversation?
  • If I put my assumptions aside, what am I curious about in this situation that only they can shed light on?

Be the leader no matter what.

Managing our own “stuff” is the high road and the hard road. It requires deeper work than we generally like. I find when I do this self-examination I end up in a much better place to initiate a conversation or realize this is not the time to have it.

This is part of growing as a character-based leader, growing in how you are leading yourself. When you find a place where you don’t feel empowered, there is an opportunity for you.

What will it take to for you to feel empowered enough to handle whatever comes up?


Images: Microsoft Clipart


What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Alan Derek Utley  |  17 Oct 2012  |  Reply

This is great, Mary! I think one of the keys to coaching is being open to outcome. When faced with a tough discussion, my approach is to present the issue as *my* issue that needs solving. I put the individual in the problem solving chair. I begin with “Here’s something I’m worried about. Can you help me resolve this?” I follow it up with a description of the issue, then sit back and see what happens. Great stuff!

Mary C Schaefer  |  17 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Hi Derek. Thanks for your comment. I’m getting ready to present a class this afternoon on just this subject and you’ve offered yet another nuance. I can’t wait to share this in class today, of course, attributing it to you. Mary

Glen Gaugh  |  17 Oct 2012  |  Reply

I have realized most of what I fear will happen, doesn’t. One practical tip I have used to do that hard work ahead of time is composing an email, the one I would like to send in the heat of the moment, and then evaluating those charged emotions that are my own from there. It is amazing how the truly valid issues come out from among the emotions when I do that.

Thanks for a great, very useful post!

Mary C Schaefer  |  20 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Glen, great points! I love your insight about writing out what you’d like to say in the heat of the moment – “…then evaluating those charged emotions that are my own from there,” – ownership is so important. I just ran a class this last week where it became obvious to the participants (thank goodness) that our own “unowned” feelings or intentions will nail us every time, so better just to face them. And, as you said, “It is amazing how the truly valid issues come out from among the emotions when I do that.” So true and real.

Thank you for commenting Glen!


Mary C Schaefer  |  20 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Alan! I just realized I greeted you as Derek in my last comment. Sorry! Mary

Alan Derek Utley  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Hey Mary, that’s not a problem at all! You can make it up to me by sharing any goodness that came out of the class you presented that day!

Alan, AKA Derek

Join The Conversation