It happens all the time. We finish a conversation and (often much) later think of a better way we could have listened, empathized, queried, coached, argued, or explained. It’s frustrating.
But we don’t have to live with it. Whether we are leading, selling, or collaborating (or parenting, relating, counseling, etc.) we can always go back. We can always reach out and say, “I have been thinking about our conversation and…
- “…I don’t think I properly acknowledged how well you did that tough job. Thanks for doing it.”
- “…I think I could have done a better job outlining the situation and presenting options. Here’s a better summary…”
- “…I overreacted. I am still frustrated because I thought you were giving me an excuse instead of a solution. But I wasn’t being very constructive. Can we try this again?”
- “…I need to bring up an important but tough topic. I’m sorry I didn’t do this sooner; I was afraid of how you’d take it and unsure how to proceed. I think the way you characterized our colleagues was unfair. Even if they weren’t there to hear you, it caused damage to their reputation among the people who were there. Can I make a suggestion for how you can repair that damage?”
- “…you said you were really constrained by your budget and timeline. And I think I was too optimistic about what we can get done within those limits. Would you be willing to explore how we can restructure the proposal to fit your budget and perhaps build a business case to justify more investment later?”
- “…I see now how you are feeling like you’re between a rock and a hard place. You just wanted someone to hear and acknowledge that. Instead, I jumped right to solution-mode. How are you doing?”
- “…I was upset that you didn’t clean up the mess you made in the kitchen and I could have handled it better. What would be a better way for me to respond in cases like this?”
- “…I’m sorry. I messed up. Please forgive me.”
In your corner,
PS: Note in the examples how we “own” our part of the problem even if the other person also has some work to do.
PPS: Knowing we can go back gives us more courage to jump into tough conversations because we know we don’t have to do it perfectly. We get do overs.