In some situations, we have not had time to prepare and are unable to avoid an awkward situation that might otherwise be best avoided. However, if we are able to take a pause and postpone the conversation, we then have the opportunity to prepare. This will greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome being achieved. As part of preparing we can ask ourselves the following questions.

What is my motivation for having this conversation?

This is an important question to ask yourself – why am I having the conversation? Too often we find that the real reason is to persuade others that our views are the right ones and that they should think as we do. This is a form of emotional black and white thinking and will hinder constructive conversation. We would be better off not having the conversation, unless we can start to think in terms of the greys that lay somewhere between. Only then will we have the motivation to understand the viewpoint of the other person and the subtleties of the situation.

Am I the best person to have this conversation?

Some of us are members of communities. Some work with colleagues. Many of us have siblings. It might be that you are not the best or most appropriate person to hold the conversation. Is there someone who might be better placed than you to do so? You might conclude this is the case once you have considered your own motivation. This might lead you to believe that you do not need to have the conversation at all, or that someone else is better placed than you to deal with the situation.

It might also be the case that others need to be involved since their viewpoints need to be taken into consideration.

How can we build trust before and during the conversation?

Trust is an essential ingredient for a productive conversation. If we are aiming to improve a relationship, then greater trust is a valid outcome for a conversation.

We can focus on this prior to the actual conversation by working out how we would like to conduct the conversation, what behaviours and values we would like to bring to the conversation, and expressing concerns and hopes. This can be done individually or collectively.

These steps are more common when a conversation involves a group of people or is facilitated by a third person. We are most prepared to do this when the level of conflict is high. In such situations, pre-meetings are required to hear the views of each person or sub-group. This is the pre-cursor to inviting these individuals to join the group conversation.