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Resolving Conflict When Others Disappoint, Step 2 – Preparation

So, a friend, colleague, or family member has let you down. You’ve asked yourself some questions and decided to address it rather than letting it go. Let’s talk about how you can prepare for the conversation.

It will likely be an uncomfortable situation, and (at least for you) a conversation that’s emotionally charged. You wouldn’t be talking with this person in the first place if you didn’t think they had fallen short!

Luckily for you, Crucial Accountability has a nice framework to use when approaching this situation.

1. Choose a Focus for the Conversation

Decide which one of the following should be the focus of your conversation:

  • Content: Discuss concern about a behavior that occurred.
  • Pattern: Discuss concern about the repetition of a behavior over time.
  • Relationship: Discuss how a behavior or pattern of behaviors is affecting the relationship in a negative or toxic way.

The authors recommend trying to resolve only one of these concerns at a time, as things are often too complicated to resolve them all at once.

2. Step Back, Reflect, Reframe

Think about your expectation for the situation and how reality fell short of that. What were the gaps where the person fell short, from your point of view? What is the key moment at which you felt let down or disappointed? Try to get a bird’s-eye view of the situation. Imagine you are going to describe it to a stranger.

When someone lets you down, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a narrative about the person that includes thoughts like, “They did this on purpose,” “They always do this,” or, “They never consider my point of view.”

While these thoughts might feel justified, they are often untrue when you look at the bigger picture. Also, this kind of thinking will put you in a defensive, aggressive mindset. That is a recipe for disaster when having a difficult, emotionally charged conversation that you hope will lead to a win-win solution for you and the person who let you down.

Crucial Accountability recommends asking yourself:

Why might a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?

Think about the other person’s motivations. Crucial Accountability lists six possible sources of their actions:

  1. Pain or Pleasure – Does the person love or despise the thing you asked them to do? For example, if your friend hates going to concerts, they may just be dragging their feet, not intentionally trying to ruin your night out by being consistently late.
  2. Strengths & Weaknesses – Is the person able to complete the action you would like them to do? Do they have the skillset to complete the action? If you are asking your peer to develop software, and they don’t know the language, they might keep blowing off your request for a reason that has nothing to do with you personally.
  3. Praise and Pleasure – Is a social pressure keeping the person from doing something? Is your partner embarrassed or anxious about an upcoming event? If so, they might be trying to find a way to get around going to the event, not intentionally trying to let you down.
  4. Help and Hindrance – Are there tools available to the person which help or hinder them from completing the behavior you expected? For example, if you ask a child to do their homework, and mobile phone games are a source of distraction, the hindrance to doing homework is likely the phone and not a desire to annoy you.
  5. Carrot and Stick – Are there other external motivations, like money, which might be behind this behavior?
  6. Bridge and Barrier – Are there other external environmental factors which could be causing the behavior? I’ve seen this one frequently when working in school groups: Some people simply don’t work well independently and could benefit from having more in-person group meetings. On the flip side, if you are working with a group of introverted peers, having too many in-person group meetings will drain them of energy.

3. Set Outcomes for the Conversation

Once you have picked a focus for your conversation and put yourself in a “big picture” mindset, think about what you want the outcome of the conversation to be.

  • What would the ideal outcome be for you? For the other person? For your shared relationship? What are outcomes that you want to avoid?
  • What are the possible outcomes if the person doesn’t change their behavior?
  • What are the possible outcomes if they do change their behavior?

Now that you have reflected on the situation, framed your mindset, and determined outcomes for conversation, it is time for the big moment! Read Resolving Conflict when Others Disappoint, Step 3 – The Conversation to learn more about having the hard conversation.