311 | How To Tackle Tough Conversations With Your Team

Tough conversations are something to dread, until you learn a better way to have them.

Chances are there’s a tough conversation you need to be having right now…and for some reason you’ve delayed it.

When you avoid having tough conversations with your team member, it holds back their growth as a team member, and your business growth.

It’s a lose, lose.

On the other side of difficult or tough conversations is progress and growth.

Your team’s capacity is directly linked to your capacity to lead them.

Learn how to lead your team through conflict, struggle, and difficulties…right down into the details of what to say when you’re leading these conversations:


Key Takeaways:

  • What holds back leaders from longterm success with tough conversations [1:42]
  • Learn the two outcomes of tough conversations for your team [06:05]
  • The powerful method to get you started with tackling tough conversations [06:57]
  • How to sideline what will keep you from being successful leading your team member to a solution [09:44]
  • How to gain perspective from the team member [11:20] 
  • Next steps in guiding tough conversations [15:56]
  • How to guide your team member to “self-discovery” [18:52]
  • What to do when a team member is defensive, difficult or defiant in a tough conversation [21:57] 


Understanding Your Root System [podcast]

How to stop toxicity as a leader

How to create KRA


Chris LoCurto: Welcome to the Chris LoCurto show where we discuss leadership and life and discover that business is what you do, not who you are.

Welcome to the show. Today’s quote is from Robert Frost, which is, “The only way around is through,” and that is going to make so much more sense as I go through today’s episode. Well folks, today we’re talking about having tough conversations. Now I want to ask you, so raise of hands, unless you’re driving, have you ever delayed or avoided a tough conversation with a team member?

Okay, so all hands should be in the air right now, or maybe it’s a leader. Maybe it’s a spouse. Why do we do that? Why do we tiptoe around and shove things under the rug, and still expect our team to grow? Chances are there’s a tough conversation you need to be having right now with a team member, or maybe it’s a vendor or maybe it’s a customer that for some reason you’ve delayed it. Perhaps you’ve delayed because you’re not sure how the other person’s going to respond.

Maybe it’s fear of hurting them or concern that they’re going to deny the problem or fear of upsetting them, or perhaps it’s fear that the person may even quit. Folks, it is essential to overcome fears, worries, and making assumptions for a longterm success with tough conversations. You can’t have longterm success with tough conversations if you’re fearful. You can’t have longterm success with tough conversations if you’re making assumptions, it’s just you can’t do it.

The fact is, when you avoid having tough conversations with your team member, it only holds back their growth as a person, as a team member. It holds back your business growth as well. It’s a lose, lose. Tough conversations aren’t fun, but they’re necessary. When a team member is going against culture or mistakes are made, you need to know how to press in and lead.

That is what we’re talking about today, so how to lead your team through conflict, struggle, difficulties, how to tackle tough conversations, and we’re going to get right down into the details of what to say when you’re leading these conversations.

What is standing in the way of your business goals? Maybe you sprint through your days exhausted, balancing the workload of 10 people. Maybe you’re always putting out fires rather than having time to strategize, maybe your revenue expectations seem out of reach. Get the tools to solve these frustrations and lead your team to success in 2019 at the Next-Level Leadership LIVE Event. In three days you can get the tools to accomplish your growth goals, create a culture of champions, control your time and change the way you do business.

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So folks today were talking about how to have confidence in leading your team even when there’s conflict and struggle. Now, here’s why it matters. Your team’s capacity is directly linked to your capacity to lead them. Let me say it again. Your team’s capacity is directly linked to your capacity to lead them.

This means that aligning actions to culture, teaching, leading, and having tough conversations is critical to your teams’s productivity, performance, and well-being. Now you might think, well, I don’t see why that is…I hired them, they should be doing a great job. Listen, if you are not leading them well, I mean, it would be great to think that we could just hire people, throw them in a seat in every single person is going to be phenomenal and do a great job. But if you can’t lead them well, then guess what?

They’re only going to operate at your capacity as a leader. So what does that mean? Big part of that leadership is tough conversations. The great thing is on the other side of difficult or tough conversations is progress and growth. Stuff that you need to get to… Tough conversations or something to dread until you learn a better way to have them. So here’s what I want you to think about, how you think about tough conversations or how you enter into tough conversations has everything to do with your root system.

Now, if you have no idea what a root system is, go back and listen to our episode understanding your root system. You can search that on itunes or the podcast app and we’ll link it in the show notes. It’s at ChrisLoCurto.com/311. And also if you’ve listened to the show for any decent amount of time, you hear me talk all the time about the importance of understanding your personality style and the personality style of the person that you’re talking to.

We’ve got tons of free resources on our site that talks about this, but if you’re new to the show then you need to understand it is super important to understand your personality style and the person you’re about to have a tough conversation with. So I’m not going to dig into that stuff, but that is, it is vital. So today I want to focus on your approach, once you have that information.

Now, tough conversations they 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 of the tough conversation is absolutely dependent on your ability to have high levels of quality communication with the other person. It’s not the other way around.

Now it’s great if the other person has high levels of quality communication. That’s fantastic, but you can’t rely on that and they probably don’t or they may not, which is probably a part of while you’re having a tough conversation, so you have to understand your ability to communicate is vital.

If you can’t have high levels of quality communication, the tough conversation is going to be tough not only for the other person, but it is going to be for you as well. So I’m going to talk through a powerful method to get you started with this, and the first thing I want you to do is before you get into anything else, I want you to think about it. You have to think about what’s about to happen.

What is the goal of the meeting? What exactly do you need to communicate? What are all the scenarios or possible responses, objections that may happen in the meeting? How are you going to respond to each one of those? So I want you to sit down and write down the stuff that you’re planning on happening in that meeting. If you don’t have the stuff you’re planning to communicate to that person written down, I can promise you this.

The moment the meeting starts to go a little bit sideways, the moment the meeting starts to get difficult, you’re not going to remember the things that you need to cover. So first, what is the goal of the meeting? What’s the plan? Is it that you are correcting somebody? Is it that you need to, you know, talk about maybe something that somebody did wrong? Do you need to give some action steps to how not to make a mistake on something that they’ve done three times, whatever that is, have that written down and then know exactly what you need to communicate about it.

So it’s not good enough just to say, hey, you messed this thing up over here. You have to actually go well beyond that, explain it, make sure that they understand what the thing is, what they’ve done that’s wrong. There’s so much you need to do to have a tough conversation and do it well, so write that stuff down and then think through, what are all the possible scenarios?

What are the responses going to be, what are the objections that are possibly going to come out? How are you going to respond to all of that? So first thing I want you to do is think through this before you ever have the conversation. Next thing I want you to do is look at how you approach it. You have to ask the question, are you and this other person on the same team? Are you guys fighting for the same team or are you going into this thing as a me against them, us against them mentality.

Are you going to be provoking defensiveness or are you going to be having healthy discussions? Now again, keep in mind somebody on the other side, they may not be really ready for healthy discussion, but it doesn’t matter if they are not. How are you approaching this process? Are you coming into this thing already, you know, guards up, walls up, ready to get to boxing in this discussion, or are you going in with the concept, the idea that I need to have this conversation so I can grow this person, so I can make this person more successful?

So start by sidelining any assumptions that you have as we go into conversations, especially depending upon your different personality style, you may already come into the conversation with some pretty big assumptions. They screwed this thing up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had leaders in the past that would come to me and go, why’d you do this thing? And I’d go, I didn’t.

Well so and so said and this and this. That wasn’t me. I’ll never forget. One day I looked at a leader. This, I mean obviously this was way back in my younger years, but apparently I had enough gumption to go, do you want to ask me a question? And they just kind of stopped and get this side smirk. It looked at me and said, okay, did you do this? No. Okay, what’s the information here? That doesn’t even have anything to do with me.

It went into the whole explaining that I don’t even know why you’re coming to me with this situation. So guys, we’ve all done it. If you’re a parent, you’ve assumed that your kid did something stupid. If you’ve been a leader for any length of time, you’ve assumed that a team member has screwed something up, right? We’ve all done it. You have to put your assumptions….squash them. Do not go into a tough conversation with assumptions.

Well Chris, I’ve got this other person who told me this person did this thing. Doesn’t matter. Go in and gain perspective on the situation. Start by gaining perspective from the person. Don’t go in and set their reality. Don’t go in and tell them all the things that they did wrong or all the stuff that you know…That is a waste of time.

It makes you look pretty stupid if you’re way wrong. I’ve watched leaders come in and just rip somebody’s head off only to find out they were wrong. Or rip somebody’s head off, they were wrong and they still didn’t find out about it, you know, because they ripped on somebody who didn’t say anything and then that person just totally lost all loyalty, you know, to that leader and just it just doesn’t work out. It ends badly. So start by gaining perspective from the other person.

So 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. Get as much information as you can. First ask the team member to clarify the situation. So if somebody comes to you and says, a team member, I don’t know, mouthed off to a client. “Hey, tell me about the call….

What happened on the call? Help me to understand what you experienced on the call. And by the way, this is a great Vanessa van Edwards little trick here. If you’ve never… Loved that gal, she was phenomenal…Back on the show, way back when. If you feel like they’re lying to you, ask them to go backwards in the story. They won’t be able to tell the story. So ask them to clarify.

What did you experience in this situation? What did the person say? What did you say? You know, how did this come about? Blah, blah, blah, whatever. Go through all of that information. When you ask the team member to clarify the situation, you treat them with dignity. If you want somebody to respond to you in a healthy way, treat them with dignity. Treat them as a human being. If you immediately come in with assumptions and attacks and all that kind of crap, then guess what’s going to happen?

You’re going to put them on the defensive immediately, so don’t just don’t even if you know that you’re going to be swinging an axe 30 minutes from now because you are 99 point nine percent sure they did something really stupid. It doesn’t matter. Get in there and treat them with dignity. You may find out that point one percent.

You may find out, I guess I was wrong, or I didn’t see it this way, or or or. Get in there and ask them to clarify. Treat them with dignity and again, when you ask them to clarify the situation, you, show them that you are more concerned with discovery in solving the problem than in them being in trouble. Now I want you to think about any time a leader has come in, made incredible assumptions about you, treated you badly, didn’t treat you with dignity, you know, swung an axe, whatever and how you felt.

Did you feel that that leader actually cared about you? Do you feel like they treated you with dignity and do you feel that they cared anything about solving the problem? Around here we are huge on this. One of our core values is we don’t play the blame game. Yes, that’s an actual core value around here. Why?

Because I don’t have time for somebody to have to protect themselves, defend themselves, try and blame somebody else and you know, we have to go through this whole rigmarole of emotional crap just to try and figure out what happened. So for me, we’re huge on solve the problem, solve the problem. In solving the problem if it’s somebody’s fault, we will figure out how to help that person not do that again. It’s okay, so treat them with dignity. Show them that you’re more concerned with the discovery and solving the problem.

This will help them to feel free. Let me say that again, free to communicate openly. It’s going to build loyalty like you will never believe because when you treat somebody with dignity, they see that you care about them and you’re different than their crummy bosses in the past and it’s also gonna increase the buyin from the team members.

So realize that if you’re going into this tough conversation and there’s going to have to be some sort of action steps or some sort of change or something, don’t you want them to have buy in, don’t you want them to look at it and go, you know what? You’re absolutely right. I’m with you. I’ve got to go do that thing or I’ve got to fix that thing or I’ve got to make sure that never happens again. So that will build loyalty and increased buy in for you as well.

Next, I want you to listen. Don’t just hear them respond. Now, all of you, heavy processors, all of you folks that have to be right, this needs to kind of punch you in the throat. I want you to hear what I’m saying here. I want you to listen to what I’m saying here. So many times you are prepared to respond. So many times you are prepared to fight back, to defend.

You are not thinking clearly. Therefore you don’t really hear what the other person is saying because you’re waiting for them to get done or they say something that sets you off or you hear something the wrong way. Whatever it is, it keeps you from actually listening to what the person says. It also keeps you from hearing things that you kind of need to hear in case the person is not telling the truth or if the person is misdirecting.

So one of the things that we do here in all of our events is that we pay attention to everything somebody’s saying. We listen to the words that they’re saying. We watch their body language. All of this is to help us guide them better. It’s not used to go against somebody. It’s helping us to guide them better.

It’s amazing when you ask a question and somebody responds with something that isn’t an answer to the question, it’s just like doing an interview, right? One of the things that you’ll discover in an interview process is if somebody is trying to make themselves look better than they are, then they’re gonna say things that may not be accurate. It may not be true or they may not answer your questions.

I can’t tell you how many times sitting in an interview, it’s great when my leaders are in there or another team member is in the process and watching it and I’ll ask a question, hey, can you explain to me what you did to make this thing over here successful and they will go on this long answer and never actually answer the question. .

Everything else they say, it sounds fun and it sounds exciting and it’s really misdirection from answering the question. There’s a reason for it. If your defenses are up, if you’re trying to protect you, if you’re just waiting to respond, if you’re just angry and you need to, you know, you feel like you need to wop them over the head, or if they’ve got you against the ropes, then all you can do is think about what it is that you’re going to say next, which means that you’re not listening to them.

You’re not hearing the things that they’re actually saying, and in those words is important information. So listen, listen, listen, listen, listen to what they’re saying. Now, as somebody is responding, when you get to the part in the tough conversation where you’ve gained plenty of perspective, you’ve heard plenty of stuff, then I want you to guide your team member to, here’s my air quotes, “self discovery of their own choice.”

So here’s what I’m saying… It’s amazing sometimes when I’ve done something wrong that I may not see it, I may not want to see it. I may not want to admit it. So when I say guide them to self discovery, you’re actually going to lead them into seeing their information. So let’s use an example of a team member showing up late when you sit down with that team member and as you’re going through the process and you discuss them being late.

“So I’ve noticed that you’ve been late three times this week, couple times last week, Yada, Yada, Yada.” Well there was traffic, okay, now here’s the guiding to self discovery. So like, do you know that there’s going to be traffic, that there’s gonna be other cars on your way into work? Well, of course. Okay, now is something happening that is keeping you from leaving earlier?

This is where they start to realize that the traffic is not their villain, that they’re not a victim in this situation. So something holding you back from leaving earlier? And they’re going to have to come up with a answer that’s either thoughtful or responsive, you know, they may just react instead of thinking about what they’re doing and say, well, I don’t want to get here early every day. And you help them to see their choices. Or they might go, you know what? Yeah, I could leave earlier.

 Okay, well then how do we help you to do that, so help them to, as I do air quotes again, “self discover” that they’re not a victim in the situation. Traffic didn’t all of a sudden tie them down. Traffic happens and their choice of what time they left is affected by that. Now we’re not talking about somebody who, you know there’s a terrible accident and it shuts everything down.

We’re talking about a situation where somebody made this decision multiple times and continues to show up late. So when it comes to tough conversations, success is getting them to see their choice. Success is helping them to understand why they made that choice and and have a plan to not repeat it. It’s not just enough to see that we need to now have a plan of what are we going to do and if possible it would be great if you’re not the one who tells them the plan, so what could you do?

So if there seems to be a lot of traffic lately, what could you do? Well, I guess I could leave earlier. You know what? I think that’s a fantastic idea. So help them to get to that self discovery instead of you just being the one who tells them to do it. Quick Recap.

You’re thinking about it. You’ve got your outline, you know the stuff you want to communicate. You’ve thought through the responses, the objections that are coming. You’ve really thought through how you’re going to approach this. You’re really heavily focused on gaining a ton of perspective instead of going in with assumptions, you’re going to listen to what they have to say instead of again being ready to protect you and you’re also going to guide them to self discovery.

Now this next piece is a piece that you don’t need to use unless the person is just fighting. Now we’ve got a saying around here, stop fighting a wet paper bag. So if you could think about how difficult it is if you were in a huge wet paper bag to try and fight your way out, right? It’s just difficult and sometimes people fight like crazy. When they do,

then I want you to focus on their choices. Now, keep in mind if they come up with something that is your fault or your responsibility, like, hey, how come you didn’t get this thing done by you know, Friday. Well you told me you’re going to have this piece to me by 3:00 on Thursday. I emailed you twice. I came by your office. I never got the information. Oh Wow. You know what? That is my responsibility. I will take it, my bad. I will fix this. I’ll put things in place. We’re not talking about that.

We’re talking about somebody who you can see this is their fault. This was their choice and they’re just fighting like crazy. This is where I want you to use the choose chose chosen method. Now this is all about helping the other person see and understand their choices, what they chose, what they could have chosen, what the potential consequences of future choices.

This is not, hear me clearly. This is not for you to abuse somebody or manipulate somebody, right? So instead, if you can see that they’ve made the choice. So let’s take the being late. Well, it’s not my fault that I was late. Well, now help me to understand why it’s not your fault that you were late. Because there was traffic. Okay. Is there anything that you could have done about the traffic there? There’s nothing I can do. Okay. What about leaving earlier? I do! I leave on time.

Okay. This is where you would kick in if somebody continuing to fight. So what I’m seeing is, is that you’re choosing not to leave earlier than you have been to get here on time. Here is the great thing about this method is it puts the responsibility on the other person. And again, this is only when it’s clear that it’s the other person’s choice, right?

So this puts this on the other person. You’re choosing not to get your work done on time. You chose to talk to that team member screaming at them. You chose to hang up on the client, whatever the thing is… Help them to see that they chose it, but also put with that the consequence.

So if you can help them to see, hey, 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 choosing to be defensive about this. Whatever that is, help me to understand why you’re choosing why you chose all that information will get you a response that has to be answered to the choice. Doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try and misdirect doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try and not answer it.

You have to remember that as well. So if they’re doing that and you’re listening, you’ll see if they start to go off on some other tangent, then you could go, I’m sorry, can you answer the question I’m asking you. Why did you choose not to leave earlier? Why did you choose to be defensive to that client? Whatever that thing is, right? So once you do that, you can start to show them the consequences. So here’s what I want you to understand, you know, by this time as you walk through this process, it’s really difficult to continue to fight.

Once you’ve pointed out the choice that they made, and if you’re accurate, the only way they’re gonna fight is one of two ways that you’re just wrong. You’re pointing out something that is inaccurate or that they are completely locked up in victim mentality. I have seen that a couple of times.

I have seen it where they try to misdirect. They will keep trying to get away from the thing that you’re saying. If you will keep coming back now, help me to understand this. Did you or did you not choose to not leave earlier? Help me to understand why you got here late. There was traffic. Okay. Could you have left earlier? Uh, no. Why could you not have left earlier?

So you’re choosing to not leave earlier. Why? Uh, what are they going to say? You know, my car won’t start until a specific time of the morning. You have to get them to that place of going, okay, you’re right. I could have done that. Okay. So here’s what I need you to know. If you continue to choose to be late, then you’re choosing. This is key folks. You have to make sure that you’re saying the words, then you’re choosing to get a write up.

Then you’re choosing to have a formal reprimand. Then you’re choosing to get fired, so if you understand what I’m saying, the next time you choose to talk to a client that way, you’re choosing to get fired. Is there anything that you don’t understand about that? Does that make sense? Do you understand what I’m saying? So if you get fired, it’s your choice to be fired. Once you’ve done that, it has painted it very clearly to the team member or the person that their choice is the thing that’s ending them up in this place.

So keep in mind the goal of tough conversations isn’t for you to be right. Let me say this again to everybody who has to be right and can’t be wrong. The goal of tough conversations is not for you to be right. It’s to help somebody to see what they’re doing wrong or to point out something that needs to be fixed or needs to be corrected.

If you’re going all about this so that you can be right, then you’re going to become pretty manipulating in the process. You’re going to become pretty controlling, possibly even abusive. Don’t do it. Remember what I always say, it’s your job as a leader to make your team successful, not the other way around, so on the other side of having tough conversations like this.

If you can do this well and you can get in there and not avoid them and not fear them and not be worried about it, but instead go in treating people with dignity and standing up when you need to. Making sure that you’re being very clear with your communication and helping to see their choices. Then on the other side of tough conversations is progress and growth, especially if you guide that person to discovering answers on their own. So once again, make sure that you think about it.

Make sure you that you, you take a look at how you approach it, gain perspective. Listen, listen, listen, listen. Treat them with dignity. Use the choose chose chosen method and remember that it is your job to make them successful. Now, what you just listened to is a small portion of a lesson that I’m going to be teaching at the Next Level Leadership LIVE Event

So hopefully this has helped you today, use this information so that you can have your next successful tough conversation, and as always, take this information, change your leadership, change your business, change your life, and join us on the next episode.



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

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