Have you ever awakened at 3:00 a.m., rehashing a conversation from earlier in the day? Why didn’t I think to say X? Or if I had just commented that Bryan’s actions were “unusual” instead of calling them “irrational,” maybe he wouldn’t have exploded and walked out. What if . . . . On and on, the conversation replays with different dialogue and different endings.
If you want to bypass the pitfalls of turning people off to your message—or having them tune out altogether—filter out any phrasing that shows carelessness or insensitivity. Pay particular attention in high-risk conversations when you fear emotions will run high. Actually draft what you plan to say so that casual words and rambling remarks will not make a sensitive situation even worse.
Corporate communication directors prepare “talking points” for their executives to face an aggressive press on a controversial matter. The very best leaders make talking points––and complete drafts–-part of their everyday communication practice both in the workplace and in their personal lives.
The Best Secret for Emotionally Sensitive Conversations: Drafting
When Do Conversation Drafts Help?
This drafting practice will serve you well in situations with customers, employees, and family: Calling an important client who’s not paying a long, long-overdue invoice. Terminating an employee. Giving employee feedback and bonuses. Discussing an issue in a parent-teacher conference. Negotiating in a merger discussion. Setting up guidelines in a strategic-partner relationship.
Personally, written talking points and drafts have been my secret sauce throughout a lifetime of selling, consulting organizations, coaching executives, responding to media interviews, summarizing board discussions, mediating conflicts, and negotiating contract terms.
The Benefits of Conversation Drafts
Even though it takes time to literally plan and write out phrasing, the effort results in several benefits:
- You can remove any emotionally sensitive words and stay with factual words.
- You have time to double-check for accuracy.
- You have time to let your comments “cool off.” This cool-off period allows time for review to make sure you are including appropriate details and deleting irrelevant information.
- You have a record of what you said—and didn’t say.
- You won’t get sidetracked by unimportant issues “in the heat of the moment.”
Authors Ronald Shapiro and Jeff Barker published Perfecting Your Pitch, which has as its core premise what I’m suggesting here. The three steps outlined in their book include these:
- Playing devil’s advocate
The bulk of their book suggests in-depth conversation guidelines, which I highly recommend, for various tough situations—everything from talking to a poorly performing employee to suggesting that an elderly parent hand over the car keys.
Drafting your planned conversation takes time, of course. Drafting is definitely not as quick as “winging it” and seeing what works. But the time involved is well worth the effort.
Planning your phrasing can represent the difference between success and failure in making your point without making an enemy, . . . in influencing without insulting, . . . and in building a case without blowing up a deal.
Learn more ways to handle emotionally sensitive conversations with Communicate with Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time. Find it at your preferred book seller.