I was meeting with a client the other day, and he was lamenting about the leadership team he’s on. “We’re just not willing to have the hard conversations,” he told me. “Everyone is afraid of giving tough feedback to each other, so nothing gets said.”

Unfortunately, we see this happen all too often with our clients. Conversations happen, but usually not with the people with whom they actually need to happen. Side bar conversations happen over the virtual water-cooler or just after the meeting has ended…or in private chats during a Zoom or Teams meeting.

Team members don’t know how to confront each other on the behaviors and attitudes that are getting in the way, and so the behaviors and attitudes continue to happen. Team members are afraid to speak up, so no one speaks up.

And the team and organization suffer. Especially when it’s a leadership team. Those destructive behaviors and poor attitudes trickle down and infect the staff and the culture.

My client was planning on having tough conversations with others on his leadership team, but he wanted my thoughts on how best to do it. I unfortunately didn’t have perfect answers, but he and I created a list of some beginning how-to’s to think through.

  • Have constructive conversations with individuals, not with the whole team – Unless the behaviors are about the whole team, it’s best to offer constructive feedback in one-on-one conversations. This will allow the receiver of feedback to potentially be in a more receptive mood, where they don’t feel put on the spot or judged.
  • Make sure it’s a good time to share feedback – A great way to start a feedback conversation is to ask the person if they’re open to a feedback conversation. While we can’t let a necessary feedback session get put off indefinitely, if it’s not a good time or the individual is not open to hearing anything, then the conversation is more likely to be ineffective or potentially make things worse.
  • Start with a positive connection – Often when I have to give tough feedback, I set the stage to hopefully help them hear what I have to say. I tell the person that I’m on their side and sharing what I’m sharing in the hopes of supporting them and making things work more smoothly. I often tell them I’m coming to them with an open heart and best intentions. I sometimes ask them if they trust me to have their, and the organization’s, best interests in mind and heart. Then I dive in.
  • Make it about behavior and impact – We often use a model – Standard/Behavior/Impact – which can help people understand and receive feedback. Effective feedback needs to be about behaviors – verbs, what was actually said and done – and not about interpretations. It is more helpful to say, “you interrupted me,” or “you slammed the phone down,” than “you were rude.” It can also be powerful to help people realize the impact of what they said or did or how they said or did it. While intention is hugely important, we also have to realize and hold ourselves accountable to the impact we have on others, if we want to work and live successfully and happily with others.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when we need to have those hard conversations with our team members, or with anyone for that matter. Tough feedback can be tough to give, but if we’re not honest with the people we work (and live) with, our relationships can wither and everyone can suffer.

How have you had tough conversations in your team (or your life)? Let us know.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in having those tough conversations, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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