Last week we took steps to breakdown unhealthy cultures of silence in order to create clear and constructive channels of communication. Now we need to master is the art of having tough conversations. It is unlikely that we will ever reach a point where we get excited about hard conversations but I do know it is possible to stop dreading them. How do I know this? Because I used to dread them and I’d often put them off until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. And by that time, the situation had often become much worse than if I’d just summons my courage and dealt with it sooner. With years of practise, I have been able to overcome this fear, so let me share some of the Key Steps I have taken to…

Make hard conversations easier!

1. Prepare yourself. Be ready to confront the problem or non-performance and not attack the person. Make sure that you have your facts on hand and have dry run through your conversation (aloud) to hear how it is going to sound. If you are confronting a bully, be prepared and ready for them.

2. Listen! Listen! Listen! Be ready to build rapport and talk tentatively about the way you see things (i.e. realise that you don’t understand the other person’s perspective and ask rather than tell). Ask open-ended questions and reflect back what you hear. Be ready to listen to the other person’s point of view. If you are not ready for this, you are not ready to have the tough conversation. We often judge ourselves in light of of intentions while judging others in light of their actions. This is quite natural but it is a trap and will possibly derail your conversation and make things worse. It is critical to listen with an open-mind!

3. Collaborate and commit. Don’t fall into the trap of either telling the person what to do (this often happens if we are talking to a junior person) or presenting a problem without having thought of a possible solution (this often happens if we are talking to a more senior person). Instead, collaborate and try some coaching. Two minds can be better than one; and when we reach joint agreements, everyone is more likely to follow through and take action. Make sure these actions are clear, responsibility is clear and deadlines are set.

4. Follow-up. Make sure that you have a follow-up discussion date in place. This helps to keep the channel of communication open, iron out spin-off challenges and ensure everyone is held accountable and supported to take action. Without this final step, conversations often have very little long-term impact or sustainability. Remember that it might not be easy but you can – with practise – make it easier and easier and…

“be the difference that makes the difference