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.
- “Let’s generate three or four options that might improve this situation.”
- “What behaviors might turn this around for you?”
- “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.
- “I see it’s difficult for you to generate options. What could you do to create some options between now and tomorrow morning?”
- “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.”
- “Who might have suggestions for you? Go see them and come back tomorrow morning with some options.”
- “What might a wise advisor suggest?”
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?
Choices are like steering wheel of a ship, we need to know what direction we want to go otherwise we will end up anywhere. Then the tough conversations begin.
Thanks Gerry. Yes, when we provide others with opportunities to choose we give them the helm.
Thanks for the great post Dan. I especially appreciate the last section regarding allowing the team member to develop a solution. My inclination is to jump in and solve the issue, but I know that is not the best for the team member or me.
Thanks Jay. YES…helpfulness is a natural instinct. Learning to focus it helps. Sometimes it means doing less.
An important post indeed… leaders should be having more tough conversations!
I think another point to add may be to make the person feel safe. If you can create an environment which is free of blame or criticism, you’re more likely to get a constructive conversation.
Thanks Ben. Yes! One reason we don’t hear the truth is because it’s too dangerous to speak it.
There are times leaders need to stand back and let others do what they do, stay away from micro-managing and let them perform. “Ben” has a good point ” create and environment free of blame”, falls back on educating and building a foundation of trustworthy individuals.
Tough conversation are what they are, perception differences, lack of experience issues, perhaps even wrong guidance! Don’t shy away from having the discussion more importantly, what are we going to do to fix the issue and how long will this take. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” , so be prepared for a long haul as not all fixes are instantaneous. “Happy Friday” Dan!
Thanks Tim. As I read your comment, I thought about… JUST BRING IT UP. Forward facing curiosity is one way to find courage to bring tough issues to the surface.
When we label it a “Tough Conversation” we are making a lot of assumptions about the other person. They are closed-minded, defensive, and unwilling to change. That’s often not the case.
As Douglas Stone stated the issues are often about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values.
So maybe we should start by calling it an “Understanding Conversation” or a “Coaching Conversation.”
I usually start by getting the employee’s view of what his/her goals are and the actions they are taking. Then I discuss the positive and negative consequences of their actions.
Going forward I do one of the following;
–Direct–“Here are two changes you need to make going forward.”
–Discuss–“What changes do you think would lead to better results?”
–Delegate–” I’d like you to take some time and think about what you have been doing regarding XYZ. I’d like you to identify one or more changes you will commit to make going forward. Let’s meet on Wednesday to review what you come up with.”
Thanks Paul. You are so right. “Tough” has some baggage. Trying to get at those awkward feelings of fear, doubt, anger, disappointment seems to come with lots of baggage.
In the end, a tough conversation is a wonderful opportunity for growth when we approach it from a forward looking orientation.
Without a specific context, #7 suggestions sound condescending to me. I guess this is where #1 becomes all-important.If #1 is there, then the conversation might not be as “tough”.
Thanks Melodie. I’m curious about what makes creating a situation where someone could generate options is condescending. It feels ennobling to me. What’s the alternative?
I greatly appreciated these concrete recommendations. The reminder not to jump in with suggestions came at a good time for me as a manager because I tend to be too much of a “helper.”
Thank you for these focused words – As the Associate Director, I am currently struggling in communication with my director. She regularly shared “global concerns” and when individuals indicate they would like to understand the concern and request detail, there is none available or a broad global statement regarding the importance of “fixing the issue” is given. How might you suggest getting this detail that is important for understanding, growth or change. Thank you.
Thank you for this post. I wonder if sometimes we need to start by being able to have what one person described as an “autopsy without blame.” It allows us to have a wide ranging discussion without the person being immediately defensive.
It is tough, but I know asking questions and letting them decide what the next steps are going to be is important. I have seen it work. As you stated with “Come back and see me at 1:00, ” the follow up and accountability is very important, otherwise people feel like they are out on their own island and when they have never had to think for themselves, they feel lost, overwhelmed and discouraged. We all struggle when we have had to do something we have never done before.