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Leadership in Action: Preparing and Having Difficult Conversations

Sometimes Supervisors, Managers and Leaders need to have difficult conversations with an employee or team. This is not our most preferred leadership activity!

Best practice indicates that these conversations are more effective when we are prepared, acknowledge the importance of the issue and the value of the employee or group and focus on tangible observations, actions and viable outcomes.

It is much less effective to focus on the emotion and drama! This type of focus typically causes the emotion and drama to become the issue!

It is also ineffective when we enter a difficult conversation with our own uncertainty and confusion about the issue, its impact and the change needed.

The best results come when we are able to be clear, focused empathetic and firm at the same time.

When preparing for a difficult conversation it is important to be very comfortable with all of these points:

Clarify the issue.

  • In one or two sentences what is the situation and the behaviour or performance that is at issue?

  • Provide 1-2 bullets of background (who, when).

This issue is significant because?

  • Explain the behaviour, and its impact on people, process, business, cost….

  • Speak to the future consequences if the performance or behaviour continues.

Express confidence and trust in the person or group.

Speak about why you believe it is worth having this conversation.

  • Identify the individual’s positive behaviour.

What is the change you need to see?

  • Specifically, what results do you want?

  • Engage in developing solutions.

What does the employee or group see as the solution?

  • What behaviour will they change?

  • What can all of you agree on to move forward?

What do you need from the other person to achieve the results?

  • Spell out the action plan.

  • Identify the accountabilities.

  • Name the specific behaviours

What will you do to support the change in behaviour?

  • What is your part in the solution?

  • How will you acknowledge the change that occurs?

Commit to follow-up

  • What evidence indicates movement towards resolution?

  • What will you measure and how will you measure it?

  • What are your timelines for follow-up?

Leaders who have the foresight to prepare and engage in difficult conversations demonstrate trust and engagement in their people. Doing this well can be your defining moment as a leader.

What are your thoughts? I would be happy to continue this conversation.

*thoughts prepared with reference to Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott (2002)

Explore the Possibilities t. 902.221.5864 e.

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