Embracing Vital Conversations – The Basic Framework

There are many challenging situations that require embracing vital conversations. 

  • An employee is not meeting expectations – showing up late to work, not delivering work by the deadline or maybe not communicating important information about their work.
  • The relationship with your significant other has deteriorated and you feel like you are walking on eggshells.
  • Your boss appears to be ignoring you and you’re worried about getting fired.
  • You are unhappy about some part of your work and are thinking about leaving your company.
  • Your parents are driving you nuts, and you need to set boundaries.
  • And the list goes on and on….

The good thing is that the basic framework with dealing with and facing any of these vital conversations is basically the same. 

Step #1 – Ask for a time to meet that is good for both of you and will not make the conversation rushed.  Meet in a place without distractions.  If you cannot meet in person, I recommend using video chat if possible so both of you can read body language. 

Prior to the meeting – clear your head of any negative thoughts or gossip.  Open your mind to the thought that the conversation can end well.  Have positive assumptions about the other person – believing that they are a good person and that good people don’t go around trying to ruin other people’s days and lives. 

Step #2 – Start the encounter with brief niceties – how are you, how was your weekend, and so on.  Then, state the facts.  Only state facts and leave out any words or preconceived thoughts that have a negative tone.  Avoid the words “you did” or “you said” as the use of the word “you” can put people on the defense.  Keep this statement of facts simple and to the point.  Do not drudge up everything from the past, only recent events that you observed and share how they made you feel (devalued, unimportant, isolated, like they don’t trust you, etc).

Step #3 – Ask an open-ended question.  Opened ended questions are any that cannot just be answered with a simple yes or no.  It requires the person to say more and share their point of view.  These are wide ranging and depending on the situation may include something like:

  • Help me understand.
  • What happened?
  • I want to get to a better place and believe you do too.  How can we make that happen?
  • How can you help?
  • How can we move in a direction to fix this?

These are just thought starters for you to figure out the right open-ended question.

Step #4 – Shut up and listen.  Truly listen and do not think about your next response.  Do not interrupt them talking or assume you know the end of their sentences.  Be ok with the awkward silence.  Most people will start talking and sharing their point of view.  Do not try to “solve the problem” for them.  If you give potential solutions, then they will not own it and this means that they are not committing to change. 

Step #5 – After listening, discuss options or the solution they have provided.  Recap what each of you are going to do next and, in the future, to resolve the situation.  Both parties will need to do things differently for the solution to stick. 

Step #6 – Do what you said you would do.  Follow up with the person on a regular basis to nurture the relationship and ensure that the change is being sustained.  If it is not…

  • In the case of an employee not fulfilling expectations, it might be time to split ways (fire them)
  • In the case of your significant other, if you’re spending more time miserable than happy, you may need to separate
  • With your boss or company situations if you’re still not happy you may need to start looking for a better fit
  • With your parents, this is hard.  I will not make a recommendation here other than find some way to coexist if at all possible.  Parent-child relationships can be complicated, and I hope you can find one that works for you, with boundaries.  As a parent, I would be heartbroken if my kids wanted me out of their lives, but I also understand I need to give them their space through boundaries. 

This is a basic framework for having vital conversations.  The scenarios are endless as are the outcomes.  I will post additional blogs on specific situations to try to give some color to different scenarios where this framework is used so stay tuned.  Until then, if you have a specific situation you’d like to discuss, reach out to me through my contact page and I’d be happy to plan for your upcoming vital conversation. 


6 thoughts on “Embracing Vital Conversations – The Basic Framework”

  1. Nice start to your blog!
    A couple of thoughts come to mind after reading “Embracing Vital Conversations”… 1. If you can get someone to open up about their future goals or plans (even if relatively minor) it might be helpful. 2. Finding common ground or life experiences could help break the ice of a vital conversation as well.
    One last thought…one I always try to keep in the back of my mind…is that everything we do is because of how it makes us feel. Everything!
    Good luck to all with your next vital conversation!

  2. Great article Natalie! I would suggest setting agreed upon timelines for the behavioral change, as well as progress checks is really important for modification of behavior as well as in cementing positive changes. This applies to both party’s improvements. If we don’t personally improve with each interaction, we’re missing an opportunity.. Thank you for the article and keep up the great advise! RMS

    1. I agree with setting timelines during the conversation if improvement is the expectation. Having the other party agree to a timeline also makes it easy to know whether they are committed to improving or just blowing smoke. Thank you for the addition!

  3. Pingback: Our Dilemma – Pineapple Courage

  4. What a great choice of topics! One of my favorite self-help books of all times is “Crucial Confrontations”. This post makes me want to read it again. 🙂 No matter what’s bothering us, it’s imperative to face it head on, be mindful of feelings/emotions, and overcome the issue as quickly as possible…cutting ties where needed, when a resolution cannot be found. Loving this blog, and look forward to your next post!

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