Now imagine you’re on the receiving end.

We’ve been talking (well, posting and commenting) about how to prepare for and conduct conversations, both those that are difficult and those that should be easy.

Easy or difficult, if you’re on the giving end you have one clear advantage: You get to prepare. If you’re on the receiving end your ability to prepare is limited, even if the deliverer has scheduled the conversation and stated the subject clearly.

Mostly, it’s as if the other person is doing stand-up while you’re performing involuntary improv. How can you prepare when you aren’t in a position to prepare?

Answer: Start preparing right now. No, you can’t prepare for the specifics. Yes, you can be prepared with broad strategies you’ve spent time mentally rehearsing.

Start with the broadest strategy of all. That’s your so-called “personal brand” — your image and how you project it.

My own personal brand (no secrets here!) is “relaxed and confident.” If I’m caught off-guard, that’s what I retreat to … not as well and reliably as I’d like, but it’s what I shoot for.

Your brand might very well be different: Young and brash, smooth and suave, quietly competent, bold and intimidating … the specifics matter less than making how you want to come across in all situations a conscious decision.

This means more than recognizing the advantages to be gained from those around you perceiving you this way. It also means accepting that the image you project might not always be advantageous, but that’s how you have to present yourself anyway.

Because you don’t get to be situational about this. Sure, you’re allowed moods. But being a completely different person depending on who you’re talking to and about what is more likely to make you come across as a complete phony (or victim of dissociative identity disorder) than anything else.

And in case you think planning at this level is the hallmark of a complete phony, I disagree. There’s no reason the image you project should be a one-to-one reflection of your self-image. But there’s every reason you should do everything you can to make your projected image real — for your self-image to become your projected one, so that you make yourself into who you want to be.

Know who you want to be. That’s how you should behave no matter the situation you’re faced with.

Start with the easiest: Your manager compliments you publicly for a job well done. Hey, it could happen! It happens all the time.

How do you handle public compliments? No, don’t tell me. Ask yourself the best way to handle them. Pay attention to how other people handle them, both those who are awkward and those who are graceful. If you know in advance how you’d like to behave in this situation you’ll be graceful about it.

How about the other extreme. Say your manager sits you down for a corrective action talk when you’ve been thinking your performance has been just fine and dandy.

It’s out of the blue and entirely unexpected. You say … what, and in what tone of voice?

A primal scream is out of the question. So is bursting into tears, as neither one is likely to fit your personal brand.

What’s the right answer? Quick — you have no more than three seconds before your silence will be your response.

The right answer is to buy time. As Relaxed-and-Confident Guy, I might ask, calmly, for some of the specifics that have created my manager’s perception.

Young-and-Brash woman might, with a level of animation that doesn’t cross over into hostility, say something like, “I’m not entirely surprised this has become an issue, but I am surprised they (whoever they are) decided to involve you. Tell me what you heard.”

Beyond this I’ll give you one guideline that will stand you in good stead no matter what difficult conversation you’re on the receiving end of. That’s to choose phrasing that makes you and the other person “we,” in a situation the two of you will have to collaborate to resolve.

It can make the difference between you being perceived as argumentative and defensive and the other person wondering why this conversation needed to happen.

Even better, it will invalidate the other person’s plan, which puts you on a more even footing.

Now, you’re both doing improv.

Anticipating a difficult conversation? Want help? There’s plenty to be had, last week’s KJR being just one example among many. The short version: Know your goals, and plan for both the situation and how the other person is likely to respond, to the extent you’re able to anticipate it.

But how about the easy ones? The hard ones are … well, the word “harder” comes to mind … but just because they’re hard, that doesn’t make them more important.

And just because the other ones are easier, that just means they’re less hard. It doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as easy.

And even if they’re less important taken one at a time, in the aggregate they matter more.

Figure it this way: For every difficult conversation you have, you probably have 10 to 20 that aren’t hard in the usual sense. And if you’re like most of the busy managers I know, for every not-difficult conversation you have, there are probably another 10 to 20 you should have had, had you had enough time to have them.

Then figure it this way: A gram of prevention being worth easily a dekagram of cure (note to self: the metric system might be more logical than the English system, but it’s far less poetic) … where was I? That’s right, prevention, cure … handle the easier conversations and handle them well, and you won’t need as many difficult ones.

Some guidelines:

Know your goal: Are you trying to inform? Persuade? Learn? Collaboratively solve a problem? If you aren’t clear in your own mind about your goal, odds are your conversation will take too long and accomplish too little.

Know your meta-goals: When the conversation finishes, what state of mind do you want the other party to leave with? If, for example, you’re having the conversation to make you smarter about something, your meta-goal might be for the other party to feel energized because her manager values her expertise.

Schedule. Or don’t: The other person’s habits, preferences, and current time pressures, along with your goals and the complexity of the topic, all feed into your decision as to whether to IM, email, schedule a conversation, or just drop by (local) or call (remote) for a quick chat.

Choose wrong, like, for example, dropping by for a chat when the other person is crunching against a tight deadline, and what should have been an easy conversation can quickly turn difficult.

Plan: Sketch an outline for the conversation. For a group meeting this would be the agenda. Just because it’s a one-on-one that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan.

Be flexible: It’s just like any other plan — don’t insist on adhering to it if you find the conversation going in a productive direction you didn’t anticipate.

Location, location, location: The setting matters. You behind your desk in your office sets a very different tone from the two of you sitting at a table, which sets a very different tone from you in a chair facing the other person at his desk. Which in turn sets a different tone from meeting for coffee, which is different from meeting for lunch in the cafeteria or for beer after hours.

Phone calls have different dynamics entirely, and they’re different from web conferencing when there’s PowerPoint involved.

Have a meeting instead: Sometimes, when a lot of people need to hear the same message, you and they are better off all hearing it together. Also: If the message is a compliment, that’s no topic for a one-on-one conversation. Compliments should be delivered publicly.

Sequence matters: Sometimes you need to inform more than one person, or more than one group, about something of consequence. Talking to these individuals and groups in the wrong order can, in some situations, blow up in your face.

Especially groups, because once you’ve told the first group you should assume whatever you said will, within no more than a half hour, become public knowledge.

Do it: Yes, you’re busy. But ignore the easy conversations and you’ll miss opportunities, for example, to catch an employee’s deteriorating attitude when the issues are minor and easy to resolve. Instead, they’ll fester, until the situation is so bad that you now have to have a difficult conversation instead.

There are eight tasks of leadership — eight responsibilities leaders have to master. Of them, communication is the linchpin that holds the others together. It’s a multidimensional responsibility that encompasses listening, organizational listening, informing, persuading, and facilitation. There are lots of ways even the best leaders can get it wrong.

Don’t blow the easy ones.