Planning and Goal Setting

We usually associate topics like planning and goal setting with business strategies, not casual conversation or everyday communications. However, making plans for certain conversations is a key ingredient in quality communication. Many times we go into a conversation with a specific result in mind, but we have not clearly defined how to achieve this result. A keynote speaker or a Sunday school class teacher whose communications are direct or one-sided, typically have at least a general plan. However, over the years I have seen much unplanned conversation causing mis-understandings, missed opportunities, hurt feelings, and unproductive meetings simply because people involved did not have a plan.      
Often, in my role as a District Manager, the manager of one of my stores would come to me and say, for instance, “I have an associate [let us call him “Bob”] that is not performing well. We need to start a corrective action process that should lead to termination.” I would respond, “All right. What exactly is your first conversation with Bob going to entail?” The store manager would answer along the lines of telling Bob what is he is doing wrong, and that if he does not improve then further corrective actions will be initiated. I would then ask the manager, “How good of a job does Bob think he is doing?” The answer would invariably be the equivalent of “I don’t know.” I would then have to go on to explain that, this being the case, you as the manager are not prepared for this conversation with Bob. Issues such as “Does Bob thinks he is doing a great job, or a bad job?” or “Was he given the proper training to perform his duties?” or “Did his performance just start to slip, or has it always been poor?” would first need to be addressed. If the store manager did not have a plan that included this information, then the whole process was in jeopardy of being corrupted.
            Someone might conclude that the above example pertains only to business situations wherein such communication plans are to be expected and do not apply to the personal conversation of friends and family. Not true, every conversation where a person desires a specific outcome will be best served by having a quality plan. For example, I have helped my wife to raise two children and two step-children. Each one of them has a very different outlook on things, including how they think, their spiritual walk, their relationships, formative life experiences, and so on. If I approached any of them without thinking first about how they might react, what event is going on in their lives, or how receptive they will be, then how likely do you think it will be for me to accomplish whatever goals I have for the conversation?
            The first step for any plan is praying for wisdom and guidance. The next step before entering a specific conversation with a desired result, is to follow these guidelines:
*Consider what is the other person’s perspective on the topic
*Be aware of the message you want to get across
*Define the goals that you want to accomplish
*Know and understand the specific information that supports these goals
*Reflect on the conversation afterward so that your next conversation can be even more effective
Suppose a new family moves in next door, and your new neighbor’s dog has a habit of barking until 1:00 AM in the morning, keeping you awake at night. You are an early riser and are not getting enough sleep. So far your neighbor has been friendly and seems like a fairly reasonable person. Think about how the situation can be resolved using the guidelines for a constructive conversation.
            What would be disastrous, and yet what we very often do, is let our emotions dictate the conversation. If the problem with the neighbor’s dog is not addressed in a well-thought out discussion, what is likely to happen? We get up, tired, at midnight, stagger next door, and demand to settle the matter in a way that will probably not end well. By contrast, the proper solution would be to use the above guidelines and calmly discuss the situation during the day—when there is no dog barking, and you are relaxed!
Once, when interviewing someone for a job, I asked if he could tell me about the last time he had to terminate an employee, as knowing their past behavior in this situation would help determine their future behavior with the company. He told me about a person who was habitually late. He said that he verbally counseled her on each of these instances and told her not to be late again. He went on to say that while one day, when he was doing an urgent job, and it was important for her to be there on time, she was late again, so he took her into the office and fired her on the spot. I ultimately chose not to hire this person because of this answer. While seeming reasonable at first, the truth is that he had let his emotions take over the situation. He did not follow the company procedure by giving her the formal corrective actions per violation of policy and ended up letting the person go on the spur of the moment. Because he did not have a plan, he also failed to follow company policy, letting anger and frustration dictate his behavior.
When we are in some fairly intense discussions with our spouse, friends, family, or coworkers, and we want to make a point, we often let the things they say or pent-up emotions dictate our conversations. This only makes matters worse. Do not let someone else’s behavior prevent you from doing what is right. Do not let emotions dictate the conversation. A calm, well-thought out plan, with a reasonable approach to any issue, is always best and will lead to the most favorable results.
Another very important aspect of these strategies is to remember to maintain your goal as the focus of your conversation. So many conversations go astray because this does not happen! For instance, you may honestly care for a friend and want to talk to her about gossiping, but when you approach her about it she responds, “Maybe I do, but you always keep reminding me of everything I do wrong!” An accusation like this may even be true, and deserves to be the topic of its own conversation, but that does not necessarily negate the validity of your topic. In this case, it is perfectly acceptable to redirect to the current conversation, with the option of discussing her statement another time.
Finally, remember always to pray for guidance and wisdom, making sure that your goals are in line with God’s desires.