Worst case. Best case. Most likely case… What to plan for

What conversations worry you? My executive clients often must plan for conversations that they are anxious about. They worry about being misunderstood – everything from coming on too strong to appearing weak or incompetent– and ultimately not getting close to their desired outcome. A simple 3-step mental exercise can help you prepare for your own difficult conversations.

Our survival instincts lead us to focus on the worst-case outcome of a tricky interaction. For example, one client recently thought that initiating an assertive conversation about a promotion possibility could backfire, such that her boss would think less of her and it would strain their relationship. It’s good to acknowledge such possibilities as your Step One.

Next, as Step Two, force yourself to consider what the best possible outcome might look like – which is the reason to have your conversation in the first place. Think broadly of any secondary benefits as well as the main one – e.g., a stronger work relationship or a new win/win solutions.

And Step Three is where you ground yourself: Consider what the most likely outcome will be. It will lie between the two extremes, and should now feel both achievable and worth pursuing. By doing this, my promotion-seeking client built up the courage to plan and have her promotion conversation using the right language.

When we see past worst-case thinking, and head into a meeting that we think we can manage and that has worthwhile objectives, our can-do mindset shows up in words, body language, tone and agility. So, try the whole preparation package: Step One, Step Two, and Step Three thinking.