The New Year has kicked off, expectations are high for a successful year ahead. Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge says that in her opinion, a sure-fire way to plot the successes of the year ahead is to focus on what was learnt over the course of the past twelve months.

Vermaak says that in her time spent working with various organisations, she’s observed that learning how to hold a crucial conversation with a partner, peer, employee or boss, was something that could drastically alter the year ahead.  These are the conversations that occur when stakes are high.  “One of the biggest problems in business today is politeness. Of course confrontation can be uncomfortable, but by holding the right conversation well, you can positively impact results and relationships.”

Most of us tend to avoid confrontation – we delay conversations, retreat into silence and work around the other person.  “However, the sooner you engage in dialogue, the easier the conversation and the lower the costs.  The fastest way to motivate myself to step up to a difficult conversation is to articulate the costs of not speaking up,” says Vermaak.

In difficult situations we keep our feelings in, resulting in frustration and eventually acting out with unhealthy behaviour.  “Being able to hold a crucial conversation might just change your life,” says Vermaak.

She suggests a couple tips on how to hold a crucial conversation:

  • Have the right conversation:
    Being able to identify the conversation level will enable you to address and resolve an issue.
    Content conversation – an immediate problem that is occurring for the first time
    Pattern conversation – a problem that is becoming chronic
    Relationship conversation – a more fundamental challenge that deals with competence, trust or respect – this usually calls for a change in the relationship if a solution cannon be found
  • Enter the conversation only after you have done your homework:
    Define what you want to achieve from the conversation for all parties involved. By using this long-term inclusive goal the conversation is more likely to be constructive.
  • Collect the facts:
    Master your story – stories are those intentions that we think people have that alter our perceptions. When we feel threatened we amplify our negative emotions by blaming others.  You will be unable to master conflict until you recognise the role you have played.
  • Enter the conversation with positive intentions:
    Establish safety by seeking mutual purpose and showing respect – the more respect you actually feel the easier the conversation. Mutual purpose comes from looking at what is really important and respect makes you more persuasive and resistant to cutting remarks.
  • Approach as a friend, not a foe:
    Explain you positive motives upfront as speaking up is often viewed as an attack.
  • Start with and stick to the facts:
    Gathering the facts beforehand is important – focus on specific incidents, events and actions.
  • Leave a crucial conversation with an agreed plan:
    Plans show all parties involved that there will be accountability. Specific steps and expectations help to accomplish results and a pleasant work environment.
  • Go into the conversation realising you may not solve the issues immediately:
    The first conversation should be seen as an opportunity to raise the issues. Once the other person has time to reflect and gather their thoughts, meet again.



Visit or contact Carina Serfontein on 012 345 6281 for more information on the upcoming Crucial Accountability and Crucial Conversations public programmes.  The Human Edge is an innovator in corporate training and organisational performance, providing solutions and skill-sets for creating lasting sustainable behaviour change.

The Human Edge is the sole licensee in Africa for VitalSmarts, the global company involved in enabling lasting behaviour change and dramatically improving results across the Fortune 500.