My expertise is in business development and storytelling. While I work with clients to help them leverage storytelling to influence others, there is much more to the work than finding the story behind data or helping people humanize the business development process. Not all of the work I do could be defined as high stake enterprises. Much of the work I do is in the modest real estate of a subject line, the crafting of a simple e-mail, or the preparation of a communication plan to elegantly articulate your intention. Despite the fact that we approach business as if emotion is not a crucial factor in our daily interactions, in fact businesses are made up of humans. And humans are nuanced creatures filled with fear and ego and all manner of wonderful complications. It’s hard to ask for business, fire a client, own a failure, and face harsh feedback. Having the right thing to say in the right circumstance is like possessing a bit of magic. The right words at the right time can bring people together, influence an outcome and inspire change. If you don’t know how to enter or exit a high stakes conversation, if you are anxious about how to advocate for yourself or you struggle to say what you mean – you’re having a very human experience.
I have a 100% survival rate with my clients. Not one of these conversations has ever killed a single person.
My clients skew towards the educated and accomplished. One might assume that an attorney would know exactly how to ask for an opportunity and an executive would certainly know how to appropriately deliver feedback but that simply is not always the case. Attorneys, executives, doctors and wealth advisors are also humans who come to communication with distinct personalities, varying levels of confidence, and the weight of past experiences. We enter every dialogue with our personal history and individual struggles dragging behind us like an unwieldy load we can’t seem to set down.
People are often a bit embarrassed to admit that they don’t know how to have a particular conversation. They needn’t be the least bit concerned about my judgment. I’ve helped clients craft language to close deals, negotiate salaries, fire clients, admit failure, deliver or respond to feedback, ask for opportunity, request resources, express dissatisfaction, and respectfully disagree. It doesn’t matter if it’s written or spoken, the ability to communicate with clarity and humanity is at the core of every human interaction.
If there is a conversation you are dreading – welcome to the human race. At any given time, we’re avoiding a conversation for one reason or another. We move it from one day’s To Do list to the next because we have more anxiety than language to enter the conversation.
Here are some things that will help you have a tough conversation:
1. Plan ahead. Don’t have a difficult conversation on the fly. Prepare for what you’re going to say. Communication plans will both lower your anxiety and increase the odds that you get a positive outcome.
2. Don’t bring your emotions to an emotionally charged conversation. When I work with clients on negotiations I tell them to get rid of phrases like, I think, I feel or I believe. When a dialogue becomes emotionally charged the issue gets lost. Create a statement of facts or a case for your position.
3. Replace the word but with and. I often find that this small exchange of conjunctions can make all the difference in the world for creating a less combative tone. This is critical in negotiations or high stakes conversations of any kind.
4. Breathe and slow down. High stakes conversations create a physical tension, which causes us to hold our breath and speak faster which can make you sound a lot like Mickey Mouse after one too many espressos. Measuring the pace of your speech will help you to have greater control over the conversation.
5. End on a positive note. We know from the Peak End Rule that in fact people remember the most intense moment and the end of an experience. Ending on a positive note can be as simple as thanking someone for the conversation. This will make the moments after the conversation less awkward and also make future conversations feel less dreadful.