I was recently reading a great article in Success Magazine by Shelley Levitt about difficult, delicate and distasteful conversations. Several of the points in the article bear repeating with emphasis. But first some background. Many managers, leaders or entrepreneurs work very hard at avoiding these kinds of conversations. This is a big mistake for a couple of reasons:
- As we say in many of our ActionCOACH presentations, the earth is round. Therefore, ignored issues and problems sooner or later come around and bite you in the butt.
- And ignored issues usually grow in severity the longer they are not addressed.
In the best-seller Difficult Conversations: How to Address What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen the authors make the point that leaders and companies that can adroitly confront what matters most, “will leave their competition in the dust.” And a note to those of you who have risen to a level of leadership that requires you to begin to have difficult conversations; you cannot get promoted past having to have distasteful conversations, the opposite is true. In fact inability to handle these conversations is one of the most common reasons people don’t succeed according to Heen.
Here are a few suggestions for having successful professional conversations:
- Be courageous. These conversations take courage, and there is no perfect time.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait until an issue gets too big to be corrected. Most of the time it is much more productive to make small incremental adjustments rather than having to correct major problems.
- Plan the conversation. Pick an appropriate venue. Avoid a spontaneous delivery fueled by anger or frustration.
- Be direct and clear. Do not talk in tangents.
- Be specific. Avoid generalizations. “You were late returning from lunch three times last week” is much better than “you always come back from lunch late.”
- Discuss Consequences Not Intentions. “When you are late with KPIs that causes many other delays” not “It seems you don’t think that on-time KPIs are important.”
- No Buts. “Your suggestion to improve operations is great, but you need to design the next level of details” sounds critical, shutting down creativity, while “Your suggestion to improve operations is great, and you need to design the next level of details.” Is much more likely to open a productive dialogue.
- Two Ears, One Mouth. Shut down your inner voice and simply listen. “Listening is the most persuasive weapon” says Heen.
If you wish to get even better at difficult conversations and to accelerate your timeline to success, my colleagues and I at ActionCOACH would be happy to have a complementary, no obligation coaching session with you to better determine how much value we can add to your business. Simply click the Free Business Coaching Session button near the top right of the screen.