Man at cafe having tough conversation

Change the venue for a tough conversation

How a new setting can improve results

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Man at cafe having tough conversation

Negotiation coaches talk a lot about the importance of process in negotiations and encourage their students to avoid getting tied into issues of pure content.

The selection of the venue for the negotiation is one such process item that can have a strong impact on the outcome.

Most people have experienced the shift in the power balance that occurs when you enter a negotiation by meeting in either the other party’s venue or in the relative safety of your own space.

Assuming you are not trying to gain some strategic advantage from choosing one of these options, then the next best option is a neutral venue – even a slightly unusual one.

If you need to have a difficult conversation with one of your team, think carefully about where you want the conversation to take place.

If it is going to be a serious performance management meeting where the person has breached a strict organisation policy, then opt for a more formal setting where you are most comfortable.

However, if the issue is less black and white, more sensitive or likely to be more emotional, then a complete change of venue might change the mood and dynamics of the meeting.

You could, for example, have the meeting on the move.

Ask the person to join you as you walk around the plant, around the neighbourhood or even to the local café.

This makes the meeting feel more relaxed, with less direct eye contact, no physical barriers such as desks or tables, few, if any, documents or pieces of technology and fewer chances to cross-arms in closed non-verbals.

By removing many of the aspects of typically adversarial meetings, you change the mood and open both of you to new possibilities.

Similarly, a meeting in the local café, a venue normally associated with relaxation, can change the tone of the conversation.

No change of venue will resolve strong, dominant hostility or disagreements over core aspects of a dispute.

It will, however, offer something different - a process shift that, under normal situations, could trigger a more productive conversation than might not otherwise have been possible.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

In preparation for your next difficult conversation, consider a change of venue.

Where could you go that would positively alter the mood of the conversation for the benefit of both parties?

Invite the other person to this new venue. You will get a quick and clear indication of how favourably they view this approach.

If they are in any way negative, then back away and choose a more traditional option.

If they are positive towards the suggestion, you might just have taken your first step towards resolving the issue.