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  • Joshua Wilson

Four more tips for having tough conversations

This is our second post about how to make hard conversations meaningful, productive, and safe for your team members. (Have you checked out our first post?) When things are at stake, people are anxious, there’s difficult feedback to give or hear; or we're asked to do things we’re not excited about, it's important to go into these conversations with a plan. Here are a few more helpful tips.

  1. Arrange for a facilitator. As a leader, you might expect to run the conversation (and your team might expect the same). But a facilitator can usually do a better job inviting people to share, probing a bit, asking people to let others finish, and so on, without it feeling like a personal correction. You, the leader, then have a chance to sit back, listen to what your team members really think, and reflect.

  2. Start the conversation with a generative question or two. It’s not bad if people know these questions in advance and can think about them a bit. An example is “how are we doing as a team?” Another is “what can we learn from our work on project X?” These questions should be simple and direct, bring up information that is important for the team to hear, and require an answer that's not "yes" or "no."

  3. Allow your team the space to say what they really think, and make sure that you really hear what they say — regardless of what's been said is, if you think it's factually wrong, if it’s not in line with your organization's policies, or if you disagree. It’s important to listen and be ok with whatever people say: if you model this for the first few respondents, the rest will see they can say what they want.

  4. Use a white board to summarize each idea as a way to actively listen. Sometimes you’ll need to probe a little to fully understand the idea. But when you do, be careful not to judge, dismiss, correct, or doubt when you probe -- try not to even imply these things! This isn't easy -- it’s hard not to reveal your reactions as a leader. A facilitator from outside your team will find it easier to be a neutral presence in the conversation.

Give these tips a try! We'll have more soon. And if you need help, we're here for you.

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