A leader will often start a coaching meeting by describing an uncomfortable relationship or interaction with another person – their board chair, their manager, a peer. I hear them out and try not to judge, but admit that I often suspect what the issue is. The situation between the leader and the other person remains unfinished. The other person hasn’t had a chance to explain themselves, or my client may be making some (possibly unfounded) assumptions about the malevolent intent of the other person. This situation requires some hard work for the leader.
A common question I’ll ask the client is (are you ready for this simple but important question?):
“What is the conversation that you need to have with that person?”.
With this unbelievably simple question, a light often goes on.
Now you know. If a vital relationship with someone in your network is going south, you need to talk to them (this seems like a “no kidding” thing, doesn’t it? Simple in theory, but it may be hard to step into).
Where do you begin? Some dedicated thinking time on your part can help.
Start with your intent. The reason you want to talk with this person should be to clear the air and continue with a relationship that is open and healthy. If you are angry, upset, or blaming them in some way, cool down first. You can’t have an intent that is pure when you in these states of mind. Once you’re calm, framing your intent for a conversation that will further understanding of the other person is an excellent way to begin.
Envision the outcome. So often we avoid a conversation because we’re afraid of how it will end. Positive outcomes are possible! If this relationship is important to you, then presumably you’d like to continue it in a way that is valuable for both of you. What would you like to walk out of the door with after that conversation? How will you and the other person be feeling? What will happen with your relationship from that point forward?
Consider a question to start the conversation. I’ve noticed it is often hard to know how to start these tough conversations, and knowing how to begin can set the tone for what follows. Questions are a great way to open the dialog, and if phrased in a non-judgmental way, they help to let the other person know you are willing to listen to them. Indicating your willingness to take responsibility to improve the relationship is a beginning. How about, “What can I do to make sure that we have (trust, respect) in our relationship?”. It goes without saying that you need to listen deeply to the answer.
It’s remarkable how being deliberate about a conversation with constructive intent and positive outcomes can put a relationship back on track. Who do you need to talk to? What is the conversation you need to have?