Tough conversations are one of those “make or break” parts of leading people. They can either empower and ignite team members, or demoralize them and tank their productivity.
The result you get absolutely depends on your ability to have high levels of quality communication with the other person.
Chances are there’s a tough conversation you need to have with a team member, vendor, or, maybe even a customer, right now that you’ve delayed for some reason.
Perhaps you’ve delayed because you’re not sure how the other person will respond, fear of hurting them, concern they’ll deny the problem, fear of upsetting them, or perhaps fear the person may even quit.
Maybe you’re struggling because tough conversations are big-time conflict for you, and it’s just “easier to not do it.”
Here are 7 steps for having tough conversations you can put into practice right now:
STEP 1: Before you call a team member out, you should always ask yourself first, “Am I the problem?”
Start thinking through:
- Did I do something wrong here?
- Did I not communicate clearly?
- Did I share the wrong information?
- Did I hold something back, or did I give the wrong impression?
STEP 2: Take responsibility and treat people with dignity.
When you take personal responsibility, you show your team member you’re not out to punish them, call them out, or make them a bad person. And you’re not just out to be the bad person yourself, and yell at someone for the sake of asserting power.
Taking personal responsibility causes them to have more respect for you. It causes them to see that you are willing to treat them with dignity. It causes them to see that you care about them.
When you do that, it also causes people to feel more loyal to you, as well as feeling safe, which gives them the freedom to take responsibility when they screw up next time.
STEP 3: Always, always, ALWAYS try hard to avoid jumping to conclusions.
Some people’s natural tendency, when something goes wrong, is to assume what happened, tell everybody what’s wrong, who’s fault it is, and how “I’m not going to stand for this.”
The major problem with this is it shuts people down, puts them on the defensive, and now they won’t talk. So you just muzzled the people who have the perspective needed to find out what happened and fix it.
That is a terrible way to lead, terrible way. As much as you possibly can, avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead do step 4.
STEP 4: Gain perspective on the situation, the person, and yourself first.
The more quality information you have, the greater decisions you can make. When it comes to tough conversations, gaining perspective is hugely important.
Instead of making assumptions, ask questions to find out what happened. Ask questions to the person or people involved, and also ask yourself if you contributed in any way.
STEP 5: Once you have as much perspective as you can get, gain even MORE by asking questions starting with, “Help me understand…”
Once you’ve asked a ton of questions, and you know what’s going on, take it a step further. Ask the question…”help me to understand…”
“Help me to understand why you chose to show up late?” “Help me to understand why you chose to gossip?” “Help me to understand why you’re feeling defensive about this?” “Help me to understand why you see it that way?”
STEP 6: Guide your team member to self-discovery.
Help your team member understand their choices by guiding them to the answers. The goal of tough conversations isn’t to be right, tell someone what they’re doing wrong, or point out their flaws.
A leader’s job is to make their team member successful, not the other way around.
When it comes to tough conversations, success is getting them to see their choice, understand why they made it, and have a plan to not repeat it, without you telling them all of these things.
On the other side of tough conversations is progress and growth…especially if guide a person to discovering answers on their own.
STEP 7: Ask the team member to clarify the situation.
When you ask the team member to clarify the situation, you A) treat them with dignity, and B) show them you are more concerned with discovery, and solving the problem then in them being in trouble.
Again, this helps them feel free to communicate openly, builds loyalty, and increases buy-in.