How to have a courageous conver-sation


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Having tough conversations in the workplace takes courage. It is something that many of us dread.

Many of us will delay asking for a pay rise, for time off or bringing up a sensitive topic about another employee. Whatever the Courageous Conversation may be, it’s about time we stopped putting them off. By pushing these conversations to the side they take up precious energy and focus. This would be better directed to living in the present and getting on with what needs to be done.

Fear is the main reason why these necessary conversations do not take place when they should. Whether it be: fear of being shouted at, fear of looking stupid, fear of offending the person, fear of lack of performance or other repercussions from staff, and fear of being judged. By taking a calm and blame-free approach to having actual courageous conversations, stress levels can be reduced and effective outcomes can be achieved.

CIA is a good first step in assessing what the conversation should involve and how it needs to be approached. CIA involves asking Can I CONTROL it? Can IINFLUENCE it? Or can I ACCEPT it? This helps to take you to the next step: Clarifying the Realistic Outcome you want. For example, if the outcome is for the staff member to change their behaviour, you need to be able to be specific on the change that is required. You need to be clear that you do not want to change their personality or make them feel personally targeted. You need to name the behaviour or the performance issue that needs improving.

The next step involves Three Magic Words. These are three essential qualities that you need to exhibit when having courageous conversations: Empathy, Curiosity and Accountability. Empathy will remind you that you are dealing with another human being with his or her own ideas, emotions, and way of working. Be sensitive to the idea that they may be going through other struggles out of the workplace that you know nothing about.

Be curious, ask appropriate questions and seek understanding rather than making quick judgements. Try to uncover why they behave the way they do and take the time to get the full story. Finally, remember that Accountability is a two way street. Both people in the conversation should be aware of their tone, body language, words, and the way their message is received. Letting frustration seep into your behaviour will be detrimental to the final outcome and chances of resolving the issue will be limited.

Approaching tough conversations in the workplace takes courage. Being self- reflective in the way you process the issue in your own time will help the end result. Be confident and clear on what the issue is and how it can best be resolved.

Mills-Eaton Training delivers In-House training for medium-large organisations. They specialise in Team Development (with expertise in dysfunctional teams), Leadership, Communication and other practical programs.

Contact Kellie Mills on

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