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Top Tips to Navigate the High Stakes of Critical Conversations


When it comes to the high stakes world of having critical conversations, focusing on small steps can make the world of difference when facilitating and receiving difficult or critical conversations.

With critical conversations, it’s important to remember that there are always two or more people involved. Most people tend to not enjoy these conversations, especially when opinions vary, stakes are high and emotions are strong. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Remember, critical conversations are an opportunity for you to step up to the most difficult and important career conversations and to discover how to communicate best when it matters the most. By becoming a critical conversations expert, you can turn these conversations into the action (and results) that you want.

When it’s time to have a critical conversation, it is important to focus on the following:

Get Unstuck: Reflect on the conversation and ask yourself if this is the right time to have it. Make sure you have all the facts before handling the discussion.
Learn to Look: Find some time and look in the mirror - take a breath. Centering yourself for these conversations is vital to diffusing unneeded emotions and creating a safe environment.
The Conversation: Have your stories thought out and focus on the facts. Take time to listen to the other person’s perspective and find some common ground.
Move Forward: Capture any agreed upon actions from the conversation. Don’t forget to follow-up to prevent the issue from recurring.

And if you’re on the receiving end of the conversation:

Get Curious, Not Furious: Don’t assume why your leader or co-worker is having this conversation with you. Ask questions to better understand their perspective.
Acknowledgement Isn’t Agreement: Help the individual feel heard by practicing active listening skills while taking note of what they are expressing. Once you’ve processed their concerns, you don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to understand their point of view.
Don’t Forget to Advocate: Now it’s your turn. Share your next steps clarifying your perspective while not minimizing theirs. Request explanations of the bigger picture finding common terms on how to resolve this issue. Build the Solution: Brainstorm and propose resolutions. Remember, periods shut down conversations, question marks open them up.

Whether you’re initiating a critical conversation or on the receiving end of one, there’s always opportunity for improvement. As leaders, it’s important to build on those opportunities and learn from those critical conversations. Take the necessary time to model the way for your teams in order to help them reduce the number of times they ask themselves “I wish that would have went differently...”

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Allen Zink
Author: Allen Zink

Allen Zink is the AVP of Organizational Development at Ensemble Health Partners, where he is responsible for developing innovative solutions for associate growth and development. His focus is identifying and leveraging individual strengths to increase productivity and achieve business objectives.