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  • “Please see me.”

    If you’ve ever seen those words written on a term paper, or had them texted to you from your boss, then you know the sensation of dread that goes with them. There are other kinds of dread, too, that come with the words “we need to talk,” or “I’m very disappointed in you,” or a thick and uncomfortable silence from someone you really need to be communicating with.

    When you get into a tough place with your boss, your co-worker, or your team, then garden-variety self-awareness might not be enough. Even if you are good at tuning into your feelings and are aware of what triggers you, when emotions are probably running high, and you are especially vulnerable, a little preemptive planning can really help.

    A plan for a difficult conversation might include sketching out some things you want to say. It might mean checking in with what you are noticing the reactions already stirring in your body as you anticipate the coming interaction. It could involve workshopping the conversation with a trusted friend beforehand. You might want to use a “difficult conversations” planning template like the Fierce Conversations confrontation model.

    “Plans are useless,” Eisenhower said, “but planning is indispensable.” This military advice is relevant to high-stakes office conversations. Sometimes memorizing a speech might be necessary (I have done that that on more than one occasion). But the best reason to make a plan is not to follow it rigidly, but to have a framework you can use to stay in touch with yourself as you navigate through the conversation. If there’s a lot going on between you and another person, you do want to stay alert to what you see and hear from them, and adjust as needed.

    But planning will have prepared you in important ways. It will give you a chance to reflect on the nature of the circumstance at hand. It will help you to imagine how you might feel in the moment, and give you a preview of the bodily sensations that may arise.

    When, in the moment, your boss says something you don’t expect, or the reaction you had anticipated come with less intensity (or more intensity!), the preparation work you have done gives you a starting place for noticing your own reactivity and then responding authentically in the moment.

    Try It: When the time is right, tee up a difficult conversation with a colleague or your boss. Plan out what you want to say, how you feel about the situation, what outcome you are looking for. Then walk into the conversation, hold the plan lightly, and let yourself be as genuine as you can.

    Image: Library of Congress cph.3a26521  via Wikimedia CommonsThis image is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.