Difficult conversations – a necessity, rarely a pleasure, and all too often avoided.

Whether you are a Team Leader or CEO, initiating difficult conversations is one of the responsibilities of your position, and one which can greatly drain not only your time but your emotions. Yet, if handled correctly they can be very effective at turning a potentially damaging situation into a positive position, from which to change what needs to be changed.

I am not referring to the annual appraisal, time-keeping or the “unfortunately your promotion wasn’t successful on this occasion” conversations; but to the conversations on subjects that can get surrounded by the fog of subjectivity.

For example: inappropriate dress, language or behaviour; redundancy; the perceive perception of your colleagues; the lack of “collective responsibility” or if you’re in the boardroom “cabinet” responsibility; and the old favourite, personal hygiene – all things which if not addressed or “nipped in the bud” can become distracting irritations to the business.

Here are a few tips I’ve used over the years to navigate my way through what I term the 5 phases of a difficult conversation.

The Culture

  1. Address the reason(s) for having to have them in the first place.
  2. Manage behaviours and expectations.

The Preparation

  1. Have very clear purpose to the conversation.
  2. There should be no surprises in the conversation.
  3. Check the facts.
  4. Seek a trusted second opinion.

The Conversation

  1. Be clear.
  2. Be concise.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Ignore distractions.
  5. Give first hand examples.
  6. Listen.
  7. Consider.
  8. Respond, sensitively when appropriate.
  9. Be fair, consistent and at all times professional.

The Outcome

  1. Confirm your expectations.
  2. Check their understanding.
  3. Secure agreement on what needs to happen next.

The Follow Up

  1. Provide timely feedback both positive and negative but always constructive.

Since 2013 I have been helping ambitious SMEs with their Strategic and Leadership challenges.

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Posted in communication, Company Culture, Decision Making, Engagement, Skill Sets, Values
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