Find Mediators Near You:

Confused Conversations

From maria Simpson’s Two-Minute- Trainings

Sometimes when we’re faced with a difficult conversation we over-think it and try to anticipate every single objection that can be raised, or every difficult response we have to make, or every completely unanticipated tangent that “complexifies” the whole conversation.
The avoid the confusion, have a strategy for the conversation based first on your goal and then on the kind of conversation that best fits the goal: feedback and coaching, training, supervision or management. 
The conversation that is most often confused concerns performance. This conversation should focus on any aspect of the work that was unsatisfactory, but not on your relationship. Whether that conversation is a coaching, training, or supervisory conversation is your choice and depends on circumstances. 
Let’s say the message is about work not being done on time and to standards.You might start by saying that you want to discuss the last project and some of the difficulties with it. The response might feel like a diversion, something about others not providing the data that were needed to do the best work or might shift focus to other work that was done exceptionally well.
A coaching or feedback conversation, which is where I try to start, explores the general situation without focusing on problems first to avoid making incorrect assumptions about any part of the event. You might acknowledge the fine work done on other projects and ask what was different this time and interfered with doing the same fine quality of work. You might then proceed to collect other information and provide guidance about what to do when a similar barrier arises in the future. For example, if it was difficult to get information from another department, then coaching on how to address that barrier and whom to call would be appropriate. In each case, the conversation has to come back to the project under discussion.
A training conversation focuses on how to do the work with time spent on discussing the sections that were not up to standards, clarifying what was expected, and explaining how to correct the errors. Essentially, you are trying to transfer your expertise to the staff member. If there is a training program, handbook, procedures manual or online source of information that provides the necessary information, then provide that reference, too. And this is a good time to talk about deadlines.
A management or supervisory conversation focuses on management expectations and standards. It might start with repeating those standards, identifying what needs to be corrected, and the consequences of not correcting the mistakes in the future. The conversation will likely include mention of disciplinary actions if this is not the first time the work was inadequate, but unless you have sensed that a lack of skills was part of the problem, the conversation is not likely to include training; the staff member should be well-trained by the time this conversation is necessary. Whatever the specifics, the approach is to explain and maintain standards.
Whenever these conversations occur, first identify the goal and then choose the conversation that best supports reaching it. If the problem seems to be a lack of skills or understanding of the requirements then you will probably engage in a training and coaching conversation. If you want to be clear about consequences, then you’re probably talking about a supervisory conversation. 

Even if the conversation gets off-track, it will always come back to the goal because the goal is clear to you, and the goal drives the process. The best part is that you won’t have to deal with the subsequent conflict over the message if it is clear from the start.
Have an absolutely wonderful and peaceful week.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Mediation Saves Mediation in Massachusetts

Just Court ADR by Susan M. Yates,Jennifer Shack, Heather Scheiwe Kulp, and Jessica Glowinski.In an appellate mediation over the fate of a mediation program, two sides have agreed to preserve...

By Jennifer Shack

Dispute System Design for Facebook

Indisputably The New York Times published an interesting article worth reading, which riffs on Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook would develop an independent body to make decisions about acceptability of...

By John Lande

Getting Reluctant Stakeholders To The Table: Experienced Mediators Share Insights

"This article originally appeared in the July 1998 issue of Consensus, a newspaper published jointly by the Consensus Building Institute and the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program."Most mediators agree that inclusion...

By Jennifer Thomas-Larmer