12 Don’ts of Tough Conversations

Success includes not shooting yourself in the foot.

unacceptable behavior becomes acceptable when allowed to persist

12 Don’ts of Tough Conversations:

  1. Don’t use “we” when you mean “you”.
  2. Never allow fuzzy language. Exercise candor and precision when fuzzy feels safe.
  3. Don’t press through when emotion is high. Emotional stress limits creative solution-finding. Self-justification is inevitable.
  4. Don’t drag things out. Take a break for emotions to cool (#3 above.), but don’t wait till next week. Urgency is appropriate if it’s an important issue. Why all the emotion if things can drag out for a month or two? Emotional stress may indicate that things have dragged on too long.
  5. Never have the same conversation three times. Unacceptable behavior becomes acceptable when allowed to persist. Impose higher controls and granular accountability if problems persist.
  6. Forget about offering options when you aren’t willing to discuss them. If you’re going to give direction, do it.
  7. Don’t adopt an adversarial posture. Help teammates get what they want. You lose when you try to win a tough conversation.
  8. Don’t take responsibility to fix someone. No one enjoys being fixed. People grow. They don’t need fixed.
  9. Don’t expect someone to excel where they lack aspiration, talent or strength. If this is dragging on for months, adjust their responsibilities, reassign them, or manage them out.
  10. Never offer suggestions before others design their own. Don’t solve problems for people. “What would you like to do about this?” Develop three or four possible solutions and choose one.
  11. Don’t keep controlling. Give freedom as you see progress. The rule of thumb is controls go up as problems persist and down as progress is achieved.
  12. Don’t speak down. Poor leadership skills contribute to nagging issues. Maybe procrastinating – on your part – has made the situation worse. If you think you have it all together, you don’t.

What should leaders avoid  during tough conversations?

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