Plan, Practice, Listen, Counter and Close
Last week I did a communications workshop to help improve communication in an organization. It went well, but I came away with a problem I need to share.
The problem was, I didn't have a catchy way to describe Plan, Practice, Listen, Counter and Close. There was no marketing slogan for it and the acronym PPLCC doesn't exactly roll off your tongue either. Whatever we call it, it can be very effective.
Can We Talk?
One of the biggest problems in the workplace today, are conversations that aren’t being held, or if they are taking place, they’re not being done very well. There are so many situations where there’s a problem or friction between workers, but having a conversation to try to solve the problem just seems too difficult, so the conversation is never held. Sometimes, it’s the opposite – the conversation is held, but it’s done so poorly there’s some really hard feelings, making the situation worse.
For several years I’ve been doing communication workshops for organizations and the research I’ve done shows there are ways to have this conversation to allow everyone to benefit.
It’s not easy, but the more often you do it, the better you get at it. We should be having more of these conversations to fix problems before they get out of hand. Here’s how to do it.
I call it - Plan, practice, listen counter and close. I need a catchy name to describe it.
Before you enter any discussion with a co-worker, you need to plan. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boss talking to somebody who reports to him or her, an employee speaking to a boss, or a discussion between two co-workers.
Planning needs to include what you want to say and how you will say it. What’s the one thing you want to get out of the conversation? If you know what you want to get from it, it’s easier to measure whether it was successful.
Planning also needs to consider how the other person will react to what you are going to say and how you’ll handle the response. The bottom line is, you should never go into a difficult conversation without a plan.
Now you have a plan, let’s practice.
Practice what you are going to say and do it out loud. Say exactly what you plan to say during the conversation and use the same tone of voice you intend on using.
One thing that’s really important is to focus on the first part of the conversation in your preparation. That’s when you’ll likely be the most nervous. Let’s face it – we don’t have difficult conversations like this every day, so chances are it will be difficult for you to get to the point you want to make and do it effectively. That’s why practicing what you plan to say is so important.
Remember it is a conversation. You need to be prepared to listen. Allow the other person to talk.
You may need to ask questions to get the other person to engage with you. There’s nothing wrong with asking a question like “How would you feel about that?” and allow the other person to know they can speak by saying “I want to hear what you think.”
Be careful not to sound condescending. Rather than saying “Do you understand what I am saying?”, say “Am I making sense here?” It’s really the same question, just asked in a non-threatening way. You’re the one taking the responsibility for not being clear.
In a perfect world, the person you are having the conversation with will say “I didn’t realize I was doing that. Thank you for pointing it out. I apologize and will do better.”
This isn’t a perfect world.
Chances are the person will disagree with what you’re saying, make excuses, or point the finger at you or somebody else. That’s just human nature.
As a result, you need to consider the response of the other person when you do your planning and be prepared to counter their arguments. Make sure you do it in a professional, unemotional way.
You’re the one who asked to have this conversation. When it seems like it’s over, you’re the one who needs to close it properly.
Find areas you agree on and repeat them. Restate what you both plan to do to improve the situation, such as a follow-up meeting. Finally, tell the other person you’ll send them a quick note (code word for email) to summarize the meeting and outline the next steps.
If it’s an important conversation that affects another person’s job status, you need to make sure there’s a record of it.
Plan, practice, listen, counter and close. If you have a good name to describe it, please let me know.
Get on the Right Track
If you would like to improve communication in your organization with a workshop, just drop me a line and I would be happy to connect and talk about my work. In the meantime, here's some info on a communications session.