Hard Conversations  

Hard Conversations

From time to time, the Teaching & Learning Department engages in a book study as an opportunity to learn and grow as leaders and team members. We are currently reading Hard Conversations Unpacked: The Whos, the Whens, and the What-Ifs, written by Jennifer Abrams (2016). Over the next few months, our team will read pre-determined segments of the book and devote a portion of our monthly department meetings to processing the content with one another, drawing connections to our work, and reflecting on how the new learning impacts us personally.

The focus of this month’s reading was Chapter 3, Being Other-Focused: Planning the Hard Conversation. In this chapter, Jennifer Abrams suggests hard conversations should be planned to effectively get someone to move from the existing state (problem) to the desired state (outcome) while preserving the relationship. When conversations are planned and initiated with thoughtful consideration ahead of time, they often result in humane, growth-producing conversations while off the cuff conversations tend to be too impulsive and emotional. The author proposes six planning questions which serve as a thinking guide, or what she terms an outcome map. For each planning question highlighted in the book, I have included what resonated with me.

  • What is the presenting problem? It is critical to clearly name the problem. At work- articulating the problem by utilizing the established norms and expectations of the group helps frame the problem with shared language, keeping the tone professional.
  • What do you want to see instead (tentative outcome)? Describe the desired state and what needs to change.
  • What are specific desired behaviors connected to this outcome? Share specific actions that are demonstrations of the desired state. Change cannot happen if you are unclear about what the change looks like in practice.
  • What knowledge, skills, and identity would the person need to have in order to do these behaviors? Each person operates through different filters of perception, or in other words, how he/she sees the world. Be mindful of how a person’s filter(s) may impact their ability to perform the desired outcome as you are planning for the hard conversation. Scaffold the conversation accordingly.
  • What supports might you offer? If asked, offer supports to the person needing help following through with what you have asked them to change. Offer only when asked as help may not be needed. This is an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and your commitment to the relationship.
  • What supports do you need? Be sure to make emotional, physical, and cognitive preparations to ensure you are in the right state of being to have a hard conversation and keep things moving forward.

This book has helped me think more deeply about how to have better hard conversations when faced with challenging issues in both my professional and personal life. I am looking forward to applying my learning as I know there will always be hard conversations to be had. I realize I may not be able to plan for every hard conversation as sometimes there are unexpected interactions that occur. The strategies presented in the book should be helpful in planned and unanticipated hard conversations. And as grandma always said - think before you speak!

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