Helping leaders emerge

Blog - October 2019

Tough Conversations

Being able to have tough conversations is an important part of being an effective leader – whether at work, in our communities, or at home with family members. Most people shy away from engaging in difficult conversations because it often feels uncomfortable and/or like they are being unkind. But to quote Brene' Brown: clear is kind and unclear is unkind.

The key to being able to have tough conversations is being clear about what you want to say and how you are want to say it, and having a set of thoughtful questions makes the process more effective and easier – and will help manage anxiety around having the conversation. 

Recently, a client struggled with one of his direct reports who was gaining a reputation for taking over meetings, not listening to other colleagues, and shutting down discussions. As a result, team members did not feel like their opinions were heard or valued, not committed to final decisions and not fully engaged in their work.

My client decided to provide the tough feedback to his direct report – he wanted to see if he could help her shift her behavior from thinking she always knew the best solution on her own to one where she was being more collaborative through active listening, asking questions, and engaging others for their point of view.

My client used the following framework to prepare himself for having the tough conversation with his direct report (see below for his process). This framework was developed over a series of workshops I led for an organization on having critical conversations. Personally, I have used this framework successfully whether at work, at home, and in the school system with teachers as I've advocated for my son and daughter.

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Aimless Love by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.