7 Power Tips for Having a Tough Conversation

“The point is this: difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.” Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations.

7 Power Tips for Having a Tough Conversation:

#1. Build positive relationships.

#2. Prepare carefully.

#3. Choose an effective location.

#4. Stay open.

#5. Get to the point quickly.

#6. Turn to the future.

(Items #1 to #6 are expanded here.)

#7. Generate options:

Spend most of your time being curious about the future. The hard part is exposing and describing the tough issue that’s in the past.

Curiosity comes from humility, compassion, and hope.

Generate options that change trajectory.

  1. “Let’s generate three or four options that might improve this situation.”
  2. “What behaviors might turn this around for you?”
  3. “How would you like to address this?”

Note: Trying harder isn’t an acceptable option. When someone says, “I’ll try harder,” ask them, “What might it look like if I saw you trying harder?”

Define options in terms of new behaviors. Repeating old behaviors only solidifies the past. Greater intensity only hastens decline.

If they can’t generate options:

Resist the temptation to tell people what to do, even if they’re unsure of next steps.

Expect team members to own their own development.

Help people generate options on their own.

  1. “I see it’s difficult for you to generate options. What could you do to create some options between now and tomorrow morning?”
  2. “Why don’t you go search the Internet for suggestions on how to deal with this issue? Come back and see me at 1:00.”
  3. “Who might have suggestions for you? Go see them and come back tomorrow morning with some options.”
  4. “What might a wise advisor suggest?”

Give power:

After you have three or four options, ask, “Which option would you like to try this week?”

Making choices is an expression of power.

How might leaders turn tough conversations toward the future?