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How to Have a Difficult Conversation

How to Have a Difficult Conversation post image

When I ask leaders why they’re not telling people what they need to know, the most consistent response I get is “She or he didn’t ask.”

Quite frankly that’s a cop-out.

Yeah sure–ideally everyone would be ASKING for feedback.

If you’re not asking, start asking now. It may be the only thing standing between you and the truth.

But, if you’re the one not giving feedback, think again before holding back.

Your Team Needs You to Tell Them the Truth

You team needs to hear what you don’t want to say. The difficult conversations are almost always often the most important.

“You’re consistently not getting promoted because….”

“When you start an email that way…”

“If you bathed more…”

“Wearing those Google glasses all day long (including at the elegant dinner party) isn’t helping your brand…”

Confident, humble leaders have difficult conversations because…

  • they care so deeply
  • they want people to grow
  • they know it’s not about them
  • they care more about helping than protecting themselves.

Lessons From The Discomfort Zone

I spoke with Marcia Reynold’s about her new book, The Discomfort Zone:  How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs and asked her for her best advice for leaders having difficult conversations with the people they lead. Here are a few of her tips.

  • Step back and consider, “What does this person really need from me?”
  • Know that your job is not to just develop skills, but develop minds. Ask difficult questions that really make them think.
  • Know that this will be uncomfortable and that there may be an initial negative reaction. That doesn’t mean you aren’t helping, or they won’t be grateful later.
  • If they get emotional, be quiet. Let them experience and breathe through that emotion. Know that’s all part of the process.
  • If you’re trying to help someone get unstuck, ask
    • What’s the worse thing that can happen if you do ____?
    • What’ s the likelihood that could happen?
    • How is that worse than what’s happening now?

She adds, “For true shifts in thinking and behavior to occur, you must be willing to challenge a person’s beliefs, interrupt his patterns, and short-circuit the conviction to his logic even when it feels uncomfortable.  This is a Discomfort Zone conversation.”

Your turn. What advice do you have for holding difficult conversations?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, & Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America. She’s the author of 2 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.
 

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What People Are Saying

David Tumbarello   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

Another component to consider is WHEN to provide feedback or have a difficult conversation. If I just came in from the rain & my coat and pants are soaking wet & my cat was up all night throwing up & I need to call the help desk to fix something on the computer … this might not be the best time to approach me with potentially difficult feedback. Advice I heard during years of partner therapy: ask if this is a good time to talk. “I would talk with you about some feedback I’ve received. Is this a good time to talk?” If not, choose a best time together. Then you’ll have that person at their best.

Karin Hurt   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

David, Such a very important point. I’ve learned this one the hard way. Thanks for enhancing the list.

Marcia Reynolds   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

I agree David. I think these should be private conversations, not public. And when the leaders asks for a good time to talk that day, he or she should says, “There are some things I want to help you with” instead of saying they heard bad things they want to share.

Steve Borek   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

Marcia is a colleague and she’s brilliant. I have her new book coming this week.

I’ve interviewed her before. Time to get her back on my show.

Leaders need to be overly curious about their followers. Curiosity leads to a wider avenue and number of possibilities and solutions.

Karin Hurt   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Oh excellent. Yes, I was really impressed by both her and the book.

John R. Stoker   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

I also know Marcia and she is fabulous. What I like about her book is the fact that she asks us to look at difficult conversations from the perspective of the other person. This is a real addition to the body of conversation literature.

I have also found that leaders will avoid the difficult conversation because of their fear of the unknown. I like to refer to fear as an acronym for “Fantasized Experience Appearing Real.” Unfortunately we usually allow our thinking to keep us from talking about what matters most. You are absolutely right. We can’t expect things to change if we don’t speak up. Marcia provides some wonderful tools for adding comfort to the “The Discomfort Zone.”

Karin Hurt   |   16 October 2014   |   Reply

John, thanks. What a great acronym FEAR…. love it!

Greg Marcus   |   15 October 2014   |   Reply

Feedback truly is a gift, and Karin I like your perspective that if you care enough, you’ll give the feedback. Great perspective Marcia! Thank you

Karin Hurt   |   16 October 2014   |   Reply

Thanks so much Greg.

Marcia Reynolds   |   25 October 2014   |   Reply

I agree Greg, when we share with people the impact of their behavior and what we want for them to achieve instead, we give them a gift. We need to look at why we are so afraid to do this!

LaRae Quy   |   16 October 2014   |   Reply

I’m looking forward to reading this book, Karin.

Difficult conversations require trust if we’re going to push them into the discomfort zone. I’ve known several people with whom I’ve had difficult conversations, and while we may not have liked each other, we could not have moved forward if we hadn’t trusted each other…

Great article!

Karin Hurt   |   16 October 2014   |   Reply

Larae, So agree. Trust is vital. No one can hear feedback if they’re too busy questioning your motives.

Sandra Abbey   |   29 October 2014   |   Reply

Karin, this was such a perfect posting for me to read this morning. I have been struggling with the concept of courageous leadership recently. The reason being that I’m working on developing a presentation to help teach supervisors and managers to be more courageous in their leadership, yet I sometimes feel like an “imposter” to teach this. I’ve been admonished in the past that shied away from those difficult conversations, or sugar-coated a conversation, so I’m not role model for courage. That said, I appreciate the notion that we are truly helping others by telling them what they need to hear.

Bruce Harpham   |   07 November 2014   |   Reply

Wow, it would be interesting to have a conservation with the words, ““You’re consistently not getting promoted because….”

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