Your choice, tough conversations or the breakdown

How many times in the past six months have you wished your team communicated better? How often have you been frustrated by miscommunication? The problem with communication is that most people are afraid of having honest communications. When your team members fail to have tough conversations, breakdowns are guaranteed to occur. Here is the problem when you fail to deal with people in a straight and forward manner: whatever you are failing to confront is guaranteed to not only show up but multiply twofold if you don’t confront it.

The excuse tree

What are some of the primary excuses people use for not having tough conversations? Here are some of the most common excuses:


  • will get defensive.
  • will get angry, irrational, illogical, or depressed.
  • won’t be able to handle the confrontation.
  • won’t listen.
  • will refuse to interact.
  • will get even.

All of these reasons are true, and most of them will happen. But that does not give you a reason to allow a person’s behavior to stop you from having the much-needed tough conversations. Here is a question to ask yourself: Are you willing to let a dysfunctional person determine how you run your team?

Does being nice get the job done?

It is challenging for us to have tough conversations, because we are taught to be nice, to not hurt somebody’s feelings, and to sugarcoat our feedback.  The truth is we can still be nice if we are having the conversations that are needed without bringing our emotions and ego into those conversations. In fact, when we allow ourselves to provide the truth in a factual manner, we are giving a gift to the other person. We are giving that person an opportunity to make a change for the better.

You’ve probably at some time in your life wished somebody would have been honest with you. In fact, you believed if somebody else had told you the truth, it would have spared you further pain. Yet, when it comes to us having that same conversation for other people it feels so difficult because we are afraid of the other person’s reactions.

That fear stops us from keeping our integrity and from doing our jobs.

Methods for tough conversations

How do you start having the conversations that you need? You begin by having the awareness that what you don’t deal with doesn’t go away; it gets bigger. Once you understand that fact, the next step is to get beyond your fear by having a method you can utilize for tough conversations.

Here are some simple steps to follow when you know that a tough conversation is needed:

  1. Put your ego aside, which means you are having this conversation without using blame, guilt, or intimidation methods.
  2. Go into the conversation with the idea you want to resolve the issue. You are giving the other person a chance to evolve.
  3. Be able to put a name and a face to the issue. Be clear and exact about why you are having the tough conversation.
  4. Provide a specific example of their inappropriate behavior.
  5. Spell out exactly what is at stake. Let them know what happens if they do change and what happens if they fail to change.
  6. Specify your desire to solve this issue.
  7. Give them an opportunity to respond. This should be the heart of the conversation.
  8. Listen with your ears and your eyes. Ask questions. Discover the why beneath their behavior.
  9. Come to an agreement. Decide upon a course of action.

When you spend the time to have honest, tough conversations, you show respect for your team members and respect for yourself. These conversations will allow you and your team member to evolve. You will solve complicated issues before they become major problems. You will emerge as the leader who has the ability to meet challenges and take your company to a higher level of success.

This post was updated in January 2019