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Navigating Difficult Conversations



Nothing demonstrates leadership skills better than initiating and navigating difficult conversations.   It is normal to want to avoid these conversations. The thought of them brings up mental obstacles that we have acquired through our lifetime such as: fear of rejection, risk of causing offense, anxiety about not being able to handle the conversation well. But personal growth and career progress is not made by avoidance.   Whether you are managing others or managing your own career, how you handle these difficult conversations will demonstrate your personal leadership qualities.

Approaching the conversation with Emotional Intelligence provides an excellent structure for planning.   Review how the elements of Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management can provide the compass for navigation.

  1. Set the stage – Bring to the conversation a positive mindset of two people working collaboratively to solve a problem. Rather than seeing the conversation as a hurdle to get over, shift to seeing it as a resource.   Feedback is essential to growth, improvement and the achievement of goals. Think Win/Win rather than Win/Loose.
  1. Determine the facts (What’s Up) – Sort through the emotions that are coming up to identify just the pertinent facts.
  1. Highlight the impact– What is the impact of the situation, the facts, the action or lack of action on you or on the organization?
  1. Empathize – What emotions and point of view does the other party bring to the conversation?   How can you create a safe and trusting environment for the conversation? Have you promoted a culture of appreciation within the organization or team?
  1. Engage and seek input (What’s So) – Conversation is a two-way street. Ask for response and feedback at every step to ensure that both parties feel heard and understood. Ask how your conversation partner sees the facts and discuss the impact on each of you.
  1. Make a request (What’s Possible) – Based upon the facts and their impact, discuss possible solutions or alternatives and ask the other person what he or she thinks.
  1. Set next steps (Let’s Go)– Identify the results of the conversation, next steps and action plan.

The proper tools together with preparation will enhance the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome and provide the muscle for overcoming the mental obstacles holding you back from initiating the conversation.

Remember these key words: What’s Up – What’s So – What’s Possible – Let’s Go!




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