Whenever you have a difficult conversation ahead, it pays to get a quick overview of the issues sooner rather than later. That first quick overview helps you gain perspective on the situation, and identify problem areas so you can avoid mishandling the conversation and damaging the relationship. An excellent resource for this is the book Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, & Heen.
In the book, Stone and his associates explain a several-step process to prepare for a “difficult conversation” about someone’s misbehavior. Their in-depth process can be translated into these four overview questions:
a) What’s my story? What impact has the situation had on me?
b) What’s their story? What might their intentions have been?
c) What have we each contributed to the problem?
d) What do I hope to accomplish by having the conversation?
When you have a difficult conversation coming up, it’s worth spending three minutes answering each question (12 minutes total) to get a good quick sense of whether you’re prepared for the conversation. The more you’ve thought about both perspectives, the better you will be able to keep the conversation amicable and on track.
I recommend this book, and there is much more detailed information in it (including advice on whether to have the conversation at all). But if you haven’t read it, you can still benefit by getting a quick overview using these prepared questions before you you jump into the conversation.