5 Essential Ingredients for Courageous Conversations

Open and honest communication is one of the most important elements to create strong relationships between employees and managers, yet recent research indicates that miscommunication pervades at least half of all business conversations. Technology is partly to blame, says Julia Felton of Business HorsePower, a British consulting company that specializes in leadership development.

“Emails and texts can be taken out of context and, without any supporting body language to back up the conversation, they can fuel anxiety and in some cases, escalate beyond repair,” Felton says. Face-to-face conversations are more effective, but even they lead to miscommunication, especially when a manager is not confident enough to have difficult conversations about poor performance or other uncomfortable subjects.

Having a clear framework for navigating courageous conversations is essential to help managers approach a tough situation with confidence and certainty, Felton says. She offers these “must haves” for consistently having courageous conversations:

Clarity – Be clear on the reason for the conversation and the desired outcome. Most courageous conversations falter because there is a lack of clarity about the real issue. Get to the root cause of the problem and address this rather than focusing on the symptoms

Curiosity – Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Pretend you don’t know anything and learn as much as you can about the other person’s point of view. Watch their body language and listen to what they are not saying as well as what they are saying. Don’t interrupt, unless to clarify, and let the person talk until they are finished.

Coherent – Make sure that you have heard and understood everything that has been said by repeating back to them what they said. This will ensure the team member feels that they have been listened to

Congruent – When the team member has said everything, then share with them how you see things from your perspective. Help them see your position without undermining their own. Seek clarity on how the team member came to that conclusion and how it differs from your own stance.

Co-create closure – Now you understand each other’s point of view, it’s time to co-create a solution. Find something the team member says that resonates with the solution you desire and build on this. If the conversation at any time becomes adversarial go back to inquiry and further clarification on their point of view. The more the team member feels listened to, the more he or she will engage in co-creating a solution with you.

Always be curious about how your employees see the situation and be aware of how your own judgments and prejudice may impact what you are observing, Felton advises. “When you appreciate that others have a different perspective from you and you can start to see things through their eyes, you are able to make more informed decisions, and in doing so increase team member engagement.”