Conducting Challenging Conversations—a 5-step process for managers

Whether the topic is delivering a difficult message, giving tough performance feedback, or confronting insensitive behavior, managers need to step into their “uncomfortableness” explains  Eryn Kalish, mediator, conflict resolution expert, and co-author of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Challenging Conversations program.

“Many people have been taught to avoid or gloss over difficult issues,” explains Kalish. “Sometimes they are afraid that if they have these conversations they will make the situation worse. So managers will often avoid confronting situations hoping that by suppressing or ignoring the ‘negative’ feelings and thoughts that they will somehow go away. But it rarely gets better on its own.”

To help improve their skills in dealing with challenging conversations, Kalish teaches managers how to SPEAK up without alienating the other person.

  • State concerns directly. Don’t alienate the other person, but get at the essence of what needs to be discussed.
  • Probe for more information to gain a deeper understanding. Gently, but firmly, probe and learn more about the situation.
  • Engage others through whole-hearted listening. Listen to the other person’s responses, even when it is uncomfortable. Learn how to work with your reactions so that you can focus and understand what the other person is saying.
  • Attend to body language. Pay attention to body language and be able to spot discrepancies between what you are hearing and what you are seeing. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting when somebody said everything was fine but his or her body language was saying that it is clearly not? Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh, good, everything is ok. Let’s move on.”
  • Keep forward focused, but only when the other person is ready to move forward. Resist the urge to move forward prematurely. In challenging conversations the real issues often don’t come to light at first. 

Is there a conversation that you’re avoiding because you’re unsure how it will turn out?  Stay focused, open, and forward-leaning for best results.  For additional tips on handling challenging conversations with skill check out Kalish’s presentation on Challenging Conversations: 5 Communication Skills for Transforming Conflict into Productivity

4 thoughts on “Conducting Challenging Conversations—a 5-step process for managers

  1. David, Marvelous program. Toastmasters can be a great sustainability organization. 1/3rd of every meeting is feedback. The new leadership manual gives tips to the person on how well they gave that feedback.

  2. David – Thanks for the tips. These conversations are never fun but necessary. All good points and especially like the keep the focus forward. At the end of the day, we need to look ahead and decide how to move forward.

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