Uncertain About Navigating a Tough Conversation?

It’s fascinating how many leaders during my leadership coaching and training have confessed their struggles with difficult conversations. Many even have professed an avoidance of entering into discussions where they may need to share uncomfortable information. They are so fearful that the interaction may turn ugly that they would rather not have it at all. Of course, without opening up those difficult conversations, leaders aren’t really honoring their leadership and they are not showing others how much they matter.

Think about the importance of being truthful with a direct report, colleague or boss. When leaders are willing to share their feedback it recognizes how much they care about the individual they work with. The key for a successful landing is how they go about rolling out the information and the way they decide to “be” in the conversation.

Here are five pivots to sticking the landing for a difficult conversation:

1. Choose Your Best Mindset

I recently met with a leader who was so upset and nervous about having a difficult conversation. They were so caught up in their emotional state that they had a very negative attitude about how the difficult conversation would flow. After talking it through, we strategized ways to lower the temperature so they could begin to think more clearly on how they wanted to “be” in this interaction.

2. Prepare For The Discussion

A great way to begin the process of conducting a difficult conversation is to think about and write out what needs to be said. Throwing together some ideas on the fly will possibly lead to confusion and uncertainty. Here are some questions to ask yourself in preparing:

3. Be A Respectful Leader

No matter how truthful a leader is or how critical the information, the difficult discussion will not be heard if there is no respect for the other person. What does that look like? There are always at least two points of view and that means a leader must listen deeply as well as validate what the other person has to say. That doesn’t mean agreeing or accepting the other perspective but rather giving space for it to be presented. Everyone sees challenges from their vantage point and being respectful is letting them know you understand.

4. Choose Your Words and Non-Verbals Carefully

At the heart of a difficult conversation are the actual words that a leader uses as well as the non-verbal movements of their body language. These discussions require quite a bit of thought about how one wants to come across. Here are some important things to consider:

  • Be specific and descriptive in your choice of words.
  • Avoid being judgy or using words like “never” or “always”. That’s not helpful.
  • Use good eye contact- make the person feel seen.
  • Sit next to the person you are having the difficult conversation and not across to create a more balanced rapport.

5. Focus On The Issues, Not The Person

One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make when trying to stick a landing with a challenging interaction is that they attack the person not the issues at hand. For example, instead of calling someone lazy it is far more helpful to state the actions that the person displays that aren’t professional. Clarify your needs with your colleague or boss by expressing examples of what is needed. By saying “You don’t value me”, it is unclear what needs to change to make you feel more valued. Share actions like the importance of getting a chance to speak at a meeting.

What other strategies have you used to stick a landing for a difficult conversation?

Related: Five Leadership Moves To Outmaneuver a Saboteur