Life Coach Darcy Luoma Provides a Road Map
 By Shelby Deering

We’ve all had them—tough, maybe even confrontational, conversations with colleagues at work or just about anyone in our lives. They don’t always end up collegially, though. But there are ways to make sure they do.

Darcy Luoma, a nationally-acclaimed speaker and professional life coach, shared a few important tips on how best to navigate these important conversations at the most recent BRAVA THRIVE Career Workshop. At the workshop, titled “Crucial Conversations: Approach Challenging Conversations with Confidence,” on July 20, Luoma explained that a crucial conversation can take place with a spouse, neighbor, colleague, supervisor, boss or subordinates.

“This material is relevant across the board to all of your relationships,” she says. She also explained that crucial conversations often involve opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes. In addition, during a challenging conversation, issues are important, results matter and it can feel decidedly risky.

Luoma shared a helpful metaphor with the over 200 workshop participants, saying, “I’d like to share the dandelion principle. You can’t mow over them. You have to address it at the root level. If you’re dealing with a root issue, you can’t only talk about the surface issue. Those roots are still there.”

Much like the dandelions, a person simply can’t ignore the need to have a crucial conversation. The root of the problem will be there until it is addressed.

Throughout the workshop, Luoma outlined the five steps to achieve a successful crucial conversation, to deal with those root issues.

First, Luoma says that people have to choose to show up, deciding that a conversation needs to take place and developing an approach to it. There are four ways to show up to a crucial conversation: passive, which is respect with no candor; aggressive, meaning candor with no respect; passive-aggressive, an approach that has neither candor nor respect; and then the sweet spot, balanced, which encompasses both candor and respect.

In a balanced approach, Luoma says that you must have “the courage to share your message, and to do it with compassion.”

The second step is to clarify your goal. This involves deciding what you want to get out of your crucial conversation. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to look for resolution?

Luoma explained that seeking a resolution is the ideal. It’s focused on the relationship, it’s “we” centered, it seeks understanding and common ground and it tries to find the truth or get agreement. The goal is long-term results.

On the other hand, the goal of “being right” is not the ideal. It’s focused on revenge, it’s “me” centered, it seeks to change or fix the other person and the objective is to try to win, look good or save face. The endgame is simply short-term safety.

Luoma reminded the participants that every one of us has the power to make a choice.

She says, “You decide how you react and how you show up. Always. This is essential.”

The third step of preparing for a crucial conversation is to craft your message. Luoma used a clear diagram to exemplify an ideal conversation: a triangle, referred to as the “Message Triangle.” The triangle focuses on the courage or candor part of the equation, first identifying the main goal of the conversation, and then developing the three main points of the message, forming the triangle.

Luoma explained that sometimes, the triangle needs to be tweaked to make sure that the conversation is approached correctly. What are the feelings you want the person to have during and after the conversation? She also noted that a crucial conversation should begin with a soft start-up.

Luoma says, “How you start the conversation is typically how it’s going to end. If you come in harsh, it’s going to end harsh. If you come in softly, it will end softly.”

Coming into a conversation softly can make it easier to follow the fourth step of handling a crucial conversation, which is to connect with empathy. Luoma says that it’s important to listen fully, which means being fully present, not multi-tasking and giving laser-focus to the other person. It’s also imperative to ask questions, to get curious, explore assumptions, focus on open-ended “what” or “how” questions and stop judging. Focused listening leads to a vulnerable, deeper connection. Lastly, Luoma says to “focus on the 93 percent,” meaning that 93 percent of communication is delivered by tone and body language. To achieve this, maintain eye contact, keep an open posture and match your tone to your words.

The fifth and final step to have an effective crucial conversation is to close with intention. Confirm the next steps. What will happen? Who will do it? And when will it happen? Be sure to express gratitude, thanking the person for taking the time to meet and acknowledging them sincerely. After the conversation, summarize any action items in writing and follow up as deadlines approach.

Luoma also warns about  “going to someone else and venting.”

She then closed with action items that the participants could take away, asking, “What actions do you want to commit to? Who or what can support you? How do you want to hold yourself accountable?”

“When you have new awareness, you can create new actions,” says Luoma. Armed with these insightful tips, tricks and valuable advice, it seems as if these participants are now fully equipped to put new actions into practice and start tackling those crucial conversations.

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