No More Hard Conversations

The term “hard conversations” strikes fear in even the bravest of communicators. When we refer to conversations as hard, we may tend to avoid them. To help reframe our thinking, I suggest trying other terms such as: important, crucial, necessary, vital.

It also helps to plan ahead for important conversations, such as making a complaint. I have used a process for years that I highly recommend. Here are the components of an actionable complaint:

• State and check the commitment
• State the breakdown
• Ask what happened
• Reveal the damage
• Make a request
• Discuss a new way to work

Start by practicing with a relatively benign situation, such as making a complaint to someone who is late for a meeting. This does not have to be a protracted conversation. Here is a simple example. Paulette says, “John, you are five minutes late for our meeting, what happened?” John replies, “I got stopped with a question in the hallway, so I was late.” Paulette says, “We waited these extra minutes for you which means we are not likely to get through everything we need to. In the future, please plan to arrive a couple minutes early to avoid being late.” John replies, “Will do.”

When the stakes are higher, such as when we need to talk about something with emotional content, think it through before you talk to the person involved. Write out what you want to say and practice it with someone you trust.

Finally, look for ways to encourage people to hang in there with you during these crucial conversations. I try to make it easier for people to be authentic and direct with me by giving them permission to bring tough subjects up to me. We have to make it safe for someone to say what’s bothering them.

When you feel threatened in some way, you retreat. When you think someone is not buying into your ideas, you start pushing too hard. Both of these reactions, to take flight or to fight, are motivated by fear. If you make it safe enough, you can talk about almost anything. When there is no fear of retribution, you can both say anything.

I love the saying, “I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care.” Having important conversations with people shows that we care about them and our collective success.

I am starting a 4-part series for Successful Supervisors through the Larimer County Workforce Center starting Friday, April 17th. One of the topics will be crucial conversations. Please consider joining us! For more information and to register, go to



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