Over the last two decades as I’ve coached, advised and closely watched CEO’s and Executives from start-up to $250 million companies grow their companies, one thing is clear.

Leaders struggle to have the difficult conversations or make the hard decisions that building a successful and sustainable business requires.

You may be familiar with some of these examples…

  • Confronting a performance problem with an employee who you’ve known forever and at one point was an invaluable part of your business, but isn’t working anymore as the company has grown.
  • Deciding to cut an underperforming part of a business because it’s not profitable and never will be, and letting go a third of your work force as a result.
  • Firing an employee, a vendor, a partner after months (sometimes years) of trying to “make it work”.
  • Having to admit that you were wrong and made a bad call or didn’t live up to your role as a leader to your management team, and committing to go forward differently.

All of the above are just a sample of the conversations and decisions that I’ve seen CEO’s and executives struggle with – all in the past year. I’m sure you’ve had your share too.

But given how critical this ingredient is to success in business, how can you step up to the “Crucial Conversation” plate and be a more effective leader?

Check out these 5 critical best practices to incorporate into your Management tool kit for the coming year and wishing you successful conversations in 2019!

1)     Be Aware 

As human beings we’re wired to avoid pain.  The field of neuroscience has done a lot to increase our understanding of why we do things the way we do.  And one of the key contributors to our behaviors is the Pain Avoidance Model which is governed by the amygdala – whose job is to assess threats.  Awareness of this very human tendency to see many situations as threatening – even ones that only have emotional pain attached to them – has supported our evolution. It’s the “fight or flight” reflex, but in modern day business this instinctual response can lead to some very bad decision making.

2)     Step Back to Get Perspective

When we’re flooded with emotional pain – whether it’s fear of losing control, making a mistake, having to deliver bad news, step back and remove yourself from the situation. Allow time for your rational mind to process what has happened.  When you’re in the throes of the amygdala (“in the grip” psychiatrists say) you can’t access the pre-frontal or logical part of the brain.  That’s the part that will help you to deal with the pain and work to a less emotional resolution.

3)     Talk it Out

Talking actually helps dis-engage the amygdala, which is part of the “non-verbal” brain.  This is what a good business coach will help you to do. But you can also reach out to anyone who will be a more objective listener – a friend, colleague, or even a significant other.  My husband is brilliant when it comes to helping me work through one of these conversations or situations.  I talk.  He listens. And helps to work through the emotions to get to the root of what’s upsetting me and what I need to say or do.  Find the right partner though One who won’t let you off the hook and will commit to following up with you so that you have the conversation or make the decision. A “noodge” can be a great motivator to do “the deed”.

4)     Write it down

Once you’ve worked through the emotions, or as you’re talking it out, write down what you need to say or do.  Always start with your positive intent so that people don’t feel attacked.   Make sure that you frame the conversation with an end in mind and say it up front.  (The book, “Crucial Conversations” outlines some very effective methods for doing this.) And don’t be afraid to bring your notes with you to the meeting.  It makes you more human.

5)     Just DO it

As the saying goes.  Put a timeline on having the conversation and put it in your schedule.  Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and at all possible, have the conversation face to face.

If you’d like more tools and best practices for your management “tool kit”, give us a call or consider signing up for our upcoming One Day planning session on January 16th. We’d love to see you there to help you have a successful 2019!


(And thanks to Joe Hawke from Uniflight Global for sharing the Fortune article that inspired this blog!)

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