We’ve all faced difficult conversations in our lives. The best leaders find effective ways to deal with them – and the people who are ineffective, let the important ones slide.

Now, some stuff you do need to let slide. That’s understood. But there are high value, important conversations which must be addressed – and if you don’t, you take a little problem and make it big.

How skilled are you At quickly giving tough feedback?

“I prefer an ugly truth to a pretty lie.” – Shakira

There are many people in the world who would rather have you just to lie to their face, and tell them everything is fine.

As leaders, we want to make sure that we continually let other people know what they’re doing well, and dealing with the tough situations that are going to keep them from growing and evolving. As leaders, we’re often the only ones who have the ability or the insight to share these challenging things with other people on our team.

The main principle here is to tackle all of your difficult conversations in 48 hours. Not four hours – because if you tackle them right away, you’re likely to be emotional. And as we talked about in the other chapters, emotions lead us to problems.

Key Point – Deal with these situations quickly, but not so quickly that you stick your foot in your mouth or make the situation worse.

You need to work on this if you:

  • normally say nothing when things go sideways
  • explode when people anger or disappoint you
  • let little frustrations build up until you reach a breaking point and then irrationally fire someone to just get rid of them
  • find that people get defensive or emotional when you give feedback.

In all of these cases, either you’re not dealing with it yourself, or you’re not skilled in dealing with it with other people.

A Model for Difficult Conversations

Years ago, I was taught a brilliant concept that I call the tough conversation model. It is a wonderful way to approach the most challenging situations that you have. – and it will shock you how effective it is.

Here are the four steps:

  1. Ask permission – Make sure the person is ready to have a conversation. Something like, “Hey, I’ve got a bit of a sensitive discussion we need to have. Are you available for us to chat about this?” You’re just making sure that they’re in the state of mind to actually have this conversation. Don’t just barge in and do it.
  2. State the indisputable facts in about 20 seconds – There are very, very few facts in any situation. Usually, we end up sharing opinions, judgements, things like that. We don’t want to touch those. Only share the facts.
  3. Share your feelings about the situation – These are nonjudgmental feelings that are about you, not about the other person. These are your personal feelings: your frustration, your anxiety, your concern, your worry, your excitement, your disappointment. Ideally, stay away from judgmental phrases. This is only about your reaction. In both the facts and the feelings, they should be things that people can’t argue with.
  4. Suggest a resolution. Introduce a couple of outcomes that might work.

The reason why this model works so well is you get away from tossing out opinions or creating arguments. You’re just laying out facts and feelings and then talking about solutions.

The Challenge

  1. Have one of the tough conversations that you need to have and do it in the next week.
  2. Fill out your thoughts on each of the four steps in the tough conversation model so that you’re well prepared.

When there’s tension between people, you can feel it. You know it. They know it. But it takes one person to step up, be the adult, and put the conversation on the table, in a respectful way. Talk about it, clear it up and move on.