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Difficult Conversation Needed? Six Questions To Prepare You For The Talk

Aug 18, 2007
I just heard an amusing story that illustrates how a lack of communication can create some real problems.

A photographer for CNN was assigned to cover southern California's wildfires last year. He wanted pictures of the heroic work the firefighters were doing as they battled the blazes. When the photographer arrived on the scene, he realized that the smoke was so thick it would seriously impede, or even make impossible, his getting good photographs from the ground level. He requested permission from his boss to rent a plane and take photos from the air.

His request was approved and he used his cell phone to call the local county airport to charter a flight. He was told a single engine plane would be waiting for him at the airport.
Arriving at the airfield, he spotted a plane warming up outside a hanger. He jumped in with his bag, slammed the door shut, and shouted, "Let's go".

The pilot taxied out, swung the plane into the wind and roared down the runway. Once in the air, the photographer instructed the pilot, "Fly over the valley and make two or three low passes so I can take some pictures of the fires on the hillsides."
"Why?" asked the pilot.
"Because I'm a photographer for CNN," he responded. "And I need to get some close-up shots."
The pilot was strangely silent for a moment, finally he stammered, "So, what you're telling me, is you're NOT my flight instructor???"

If you want to avoid getting yourself into a similar situation, it's important to be aware of what needs to be discussed!

Before you can have an effective conversation to resolve an important issue, it's essential that you clarify exactly what the issue is and all your concerns about it. Issues come up in all aspects of our lives: strategic planning, employees, career planning, marital problems, relationships, or children.

Strategic plans at work may have looked good on paper, but implementation is just not happening as expected. Employees may be making mistakes and not creating the kind of progress that is necessary. There could be indiscretions showing up with employees that must be addressed.

Even though a job is paying well, it may not be one that you can imagine doing long term and that issue needs to be discussed with one's spouse. Children may be off track from good performance in school and into self-defeating behaviors that need to be addressed.

The more honest you can be with yourself about the issues, the more ready you will be to bring up the subjects for thorough discussion. Here are six important questions to prepare you for a productive conversation.

What is the most pressing issue that needs to be resolved?
What exactly is going on right now?
How is this issue currently impacting me?
If things stay as they are, what's likely to happen as time goes on?
How have I personally contributed to the problem?
With a positive resolution, what enjoyable results can we expect?

Actually taking the time to write down your answers to these questions is a great way to get focused for an extremely productive discussion. Without a clear focus, it is easy to get off track, place blame on the other person, and leave the discussion without resolution.
About the Author
A coach can help you focus for difficult conversations. Visit exuberantproductivity.com to access resources, and research that may be helpful in resolving the sticky situations in your life. Reach your Exuberant Productivity Coach, Suzanne Holman, MAEd at suzanne@suzanneholman.com.
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