I admit it. Even I get butterflies in the tummy sometimes at the thought of having a difficult conversation. However, over the years I’ve developed a strategy for having these courageous conversations. I’ve broken the process down into three clearly recognisable stages which means I can prepare and guide the conversation to a positive outcome.
Would you like to know what those three stages are?
You can’t expect great results if you enter the conversation without planning. It’s like setting off on a long journey without having a map to guide you. But preparation is about more than just working out what you want to say. The most important part of planning is identifying the outcome you want to achieve. If you know that, you can map your way there.
- What does your ideal outcome look like?
- What facts can you contribute to the conversation?
- What will your team member be thinking or feeling?
- How might that influence the conversation?
- What information might they need from you?
- What information might you need from them?
- How can you help?
While you can’t script the conversation (after all, it is supposed to be two-sided!) you can plan and shift your thoughts away from your own needs and emotions, towards a shared and positive outcome.
This is a problem-solving conversation, so it needs input from both people. Remember LUNA – “Listen for Understanding Not Agreement”. Listen to what is being said. You’ll learn a lot about the reasoning they have followed. When you understand their perspective, you can find common ground. Listen to understand, not argue. Create a safe space for the other person to share their perspectives. But this goes two ways. When you share your perspective, your team member will learn much about why this is important to you, to the team and to the person as well.
Invite the person to join the conversation by asking questions like “How do you see this?” or “What ideas do you have?” Check your understanding of what the person says and make sure you each understand the other, especially regarding any follow-up steps.
John Maxwell tells us leaders are privileged to help their people grow which involves building good relationships as well as helping them grow. With courageous conversations, the outcome relies on a balance of care and candour.
“Care without candor creates dysfunctional relationships. Candor without care creates distant relationships. But care balanced with candor creates developing relationships.”
In other words, an effective conversation is not just about what was said, but also the way it was said. If you care about reaching the best possible outcome, it will show in the way you participate in the conversation. Pay attention. Be curious and ask questions to gather more information. Hold yourself accountable if you’ve contributed to the situation in some way. You don’t have to have the ideal solution. You just need to care about finding it together – and show you care.
Difficult and courageous conversations aren’t easy, but they are essential. If you don’t tackle issues as they arise – and you’re not honest and open about your thoughts and feelings – the situation will never improve. Without tackling these problems, your teams will suffer and so will their performance. If you don’t deal with difficult situations, you will lose the respect of your team and your authority as a leader. Handle these conversations with care and respect and you will foster good relationships as you solve problems.
Difficult conversations do take guts to handle and you’re not the only person to feel uncomfortable about them. But if your discomfort is holding you back, it’s costing you dearly as a leader. I encourage you to take part in Athena Leadership Academy’s Courageous Conversations Workshop and give yourself the skill and strategies you need to communicate with impact. Reach out and let’s chat about running this workshop in your workplace, association or group.