Leadership Tips For Having Hard Conversations


Things happen. People act in ways we didn’t expect them to. None of us are perfect.

When leading, occasionally we have to have those conversations we just don’t enjoy. Maybe it’s not that someone did anything wrong, maybe we just have to deliver some news. Maybe it’s going to surprise them or maybe they see it coming.

Sometimes these conversations come because someone is doing something they know is wrong and sometimes they come because someone isn’t doing something they know they should.

Whatever the case, all leaders have to have tough conversations. Here are 4 tips for when those times come.

Don’t make it a big deal, unless absolutely necessary.

The temptation is to call someone into your office in order to have these conversations. After all, you’re apprehensive about it and it feels like one of “those” conversations. Sometimes, that’s absolutely the correct way to approach it. Sometimes, the people we’re dealing with need to know that we mean business. However, often times, it takes much of the edge off if you can have the conversation in passing… if it can feel more natural. You can still say mostly the same thing and certainly get your point across, it just doesn’t come off as professional and overwhelming.

Be honest but gracious.

There very well may be a good reason someone isn’t performing or for them saying what they said or whatever the issue is. Try to be gracious. Maybe home life is difficult. Maybe someone is sick. Maybe they are just in the dark on why what they did was wrong. Try to be honest, but take into account that these are people you’re dealing with and that people do things and live messy complicated and hectic lives. Sure, they have a job, but try to cover your honesty in grace and understanding.

Get to the point.

When having those kinds of conversations, it can be easy to put too much on the front end and fail to get to the point. The biggest reason for that is because we ourselves are nervous and are looking for the right words. Most of the time, though, the person you’re talking to knows what’s coming. They aren’t hearing what you’re saying until you say what you need to say. Just get to the point. You can explain after if need be, but say what you want to say.

Talk about next steps while encouraging them.

Unless it’s a termination situation, the person you’re having the conversation with is still going to be with the organization. Encourage them after they news. You’re not there to beat them up or make them feel guilty, you’re there to lead them to a better place. Encourage them. Give them tools to correct what needs to be corrected. Let them feel like they can make improvements or feel better.

OK, I need your input. Many of you have more experience at this than I do. What tips do you have?


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