Navigating Crucial Conversations: 7 Essential Steps

Talking to employees about sensitive issues can be challenging, but avoiding these conversations isn’t the answer. Things have a tendency to fester and worsen when not addressed.

Effectively navigating difficult discussions with your employees can lead to improved attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. Here are seven essential steps for handling crucial conversations.

1. Start with the Right Motivation 

Come into the conversation with an open mind and heart. Don’t let anger, resentment, or revenge drive your motives. Don’t enter the conversation with your mind already made up and focus on what you really want from the interaction.

2. Stay Engaged  

Be fully present and notice warning signs if the discussion goes off track. The sooner you recognize you’re no longer in productive dialogue, the quicker you can get back on track.

3. Create a Safe Environment

Fear leads to defensiveness and shutdown. Make the other person feel safe to foster open, honest conversation. 

4. Manage Emotions 

Notice and acknowledge emotions without getting hooked by them. Keep calm and set the tone you want for the interaction.

5. Establish a Shared Purpose 

Agree on a common goal to anchor the conversation — we both want a better relationship, we both want the project to turn out well, we both want the client to be happy. Remind each other of this shared purpose if things feel rocky.

6. Separate Facts from Stories

The stories we tell ourselves drive our emotions. If we’re angry, we’ve told ourselves a story to justify our feelings. Be aware of the narratives you may have consciously or unconsciously invested in over time and choose more constructive ones if needed.

7. Agree on a clear ACTION plan

End the conversation with clarity on tangible next steps. In sports, an effective coach always provides a player with steps for improvement after making a criticism of their performance — otherwise it’s not truly constructive. Make sure to offer your employee a roadmap for real change.

I hope these tips provide a helpful starting point for facing your next important discussion. Crucial conversations require courage, empathy, and self-awareness. With practice, it becomes easier to connect and communicate. 

If you would like to learn more about how this might apply to your business, let’s talk:

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