10 Power Tips for Dancing with Elephants


The more uncomfortable the conversation the more important it is. The more it matters, the tougher it is.

Weak leaders choose manipulation over honest exchange. Wise leaders choose tough conversation over mediocrity.

Successful leaders address issues others avoid.

Mediocrity is the result of avoidance.

Excellence is a function of confrontation.

The danger of tough conversations is making matters worse. The bigger danger is avoiding them.

Ten power tips for dancing with elephants:

  1. Describe consequences of ignoring the issue. Does it really matter or are you being a jerk? Perhaps it’s your issue. Let it go.
  2. Do stuff you enjoy before and after doing stuff you hate. Manage emotions or you’ll end up in the pits.
  3. Solve the right problem. It’s deeper than, “We didn’t make our numbers.”
  4. Ask stupid questions and make obvious statements. Assumptions block communication. What’s obvious to you may be obviously wrong to others.
  5. Serve their best interests. They won’t enjoy it if it’s not good for them. Don’t fixate on your needs; focus on theirs. When their best interests don’t serve organizational interests, it’s time for serious change.
  6. “Be tough on issues and tender with people,” Doug Conant. Respect, kindness, and courtesy say more about you than they say about others.
  7. Use “and” not “but.” “And” is inclusive. “But” is an erasure.
  8. Determine what you won’t say.
  9. Focus on best solutions. Winning and losing won’t work. The need to be right intensifies antagonism. Defending positions creates enemies. But, exploring options builds alliances.
  10. Define preferred outcomes by answering six questions.
    1. What do I really want?
    2. What’s in the way?
    3. How do I want them to feel?
    4. What are my hopes for the relationship?
    5. How long before things must improve?
    6. What behaviors – visible actions – express progress.

What makes tough conversations go bad?

What are the elements of a successful tough conversation?


Bring a Leadership Freak workshop to your organization.

Dancing with Elephants!

Leaders who avoid tough conversations create mediocre teams and organizations. Learn how to achieve excellence by inviting the “elephant in the room” to dance. This workshop includes group projects, dynamic interactions, powerful stories, and “tragic” humor.

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