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The Champion Forum Podcast

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TCF025: Navigating Tough Conversations

The most influential leaders in our lives are those who are not afraid to challenge us and push us to be better. A challenging leader doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations because they know that not only is a negative attitude, subpar performance, misbehavior, or being unprofessional potentially harmful to the company, but it is also harmful to you and your career.

Avoiding difficult conversations is detrimental to your own success and professional growth as well. When you don’t correct a behavior, you are saying that it is okay. You are trading short-term comfort for the long-term health of our teams and businesses. Not having challenging conversations can lead to high turnover, loss of trust, disengagement, low-performance output, and/or low morale. Avoiding confrontation does a disservice to the person who needs to be corrected as well because it limits their ability to improve and succeed in their life and career.

5 Benefits of Having Tough Conversations

  1. Tough conversations can increase trust and respect.

    • Agreement is not a requirement for trust and respect.

    • When we are willing to endure discomfort with those we lead, we show them we respect them enough to be honest.

    • In the future, they will trust you to come to them instead of avoiding issues.

2. Tough conversations communicate value.

  • When we care about someone enough to have a tough conversation, we communicate how much they mean to us.

  • If we didn’t value them, we would just send an email or text or gossip about them to someone else.

  • No one enjoys being corrected, but most people value being addressed personally.

3. Tough conversations clarify the future.

  • People want to know where they stand.

  • The future is uncertain enough without adding to the ambiguity. Where you can add clarity, you should.

4. Tough conversations reveal blind spots.

  • None of us are perfectly self-aware.

  • Tough conversations can do one of two things, it can either reinforce someone’s view of themselves or it can reveal their blind spots.

  • Blind spots are the spaces in our self-assessment that do not match how others view us.

5. Tough conversations stretch our leadership.

  • As you commit to having conversations that you fear, you will begin to stretch yourself.

  • You will get better at being comfortable in the midst of discomfort.

  • Stretching produces growth. Comfort is the opposite of stretching and the enemy of growth.

Q: What prevents you from having tough conversations? Is it a personal fear or uneasiness about conflict? Or are you unclear about what expectations you are supposed to be enforcing? What can be done to make your employees more aware of the standards? Describe a time when you had a tough conversation. How do you feel like you grew through the process? Did the employee respond well, or did they later find another job?


Do your homework

  • Your role is to make sure that your employees succeed.

  • Prepare before the meeting so that you can outline expectations and explain how your employees’ are missing the mark.

  • Performance reviews are a way to evaluate if certain goals or objectives are being met.

  • It’s important to document conflicts and have policies in place so that there is a clear way for you to hold your employees to the standards of your organization and ensure that they understand and acknowledge the policy.

  • It’s difficult to enforce rules and guidelines if they were never set in the first place.

Consider Having a Witness

  • Bring in a member of HR or another manager on the team.

  • Never involve another employee.

  • Discuss the policy violation or issue ahead of time and explain why you want your witness to be there and what, if anything, you want them to do during the meeting.

Prepare for Consistency

  • Hold all your employees accountable to the same performance expectations and consistently enforce policies.

  • With the right preparation, you should be able to refer back to the facts to explain why you’re having the meeting.

  • Doing this will reduce any concerns your employees may have about being singled out.

Q: How do you prepare for difficult conversations? Share what helps you feel comfortable with a group of your peers or a mentor. Are there any policies your team needs to follow that are unclear? How can you clarify the policy so that you can be consistent and hold people accountable? What qualities should you look for in a witness to your crucial conversations?

Application Activities:

  1. Consider the last time someone had a difficult conversation with you about your behavior. What did they do that made you feel comfortable and valued in the conversation? What did they do that made you feel uneasy and attacked? Using this feedback, what do you think is important for you to do for your employees/team members when you are having a difficult conversation with them?

  2. Examine your own fears around having difficult conversations. Have you been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation gone bad? What are you afraid of? Spend some time considering possible outcomes and possible responses. Don’t overthink their responses, but consider a way to deal with a negative reaction, if it should happen.

  3. Talk to your boss or a mentor and make a list of your top 5-10 behaviors that you will not allow. If that s overwhelming, start with just 3-5 and expand that list over the next month or two. Decide that no matter how uncomfortable you feel, you will always address those 3-5 behaviors anytime you see them for the next month. As you begin to address negative behaviors you will 1. Get more confident in your ability to deal with conflict, and 2. You will start to see employees doing those things less because they can see that you are consistent and will not allow them.

Contact Jeff

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