Five Best Practices to Lead Courageous Conversations at Work

Five Best Practices to Lead Courageous Conversations at Work

Courageous You,

I don’t know about you, but I dread courageous conversations that start with, “We need to talk.” Or at least I used to until I figured out an effective plan to lead challenging conversations with teammates, executives and even peers.

I’ve shared this plan with my clients ranging from a $12 billion firm to individual leaders determined to create great impact in the world. The best practices helped them approach these daunting conversations, so I’d like to share a few tips with you.

Before I dive in, let’s define what we consider courageous conversations.

Here are a few courageous conversations that come to mind:

  • Giving constructive feedback to someone who may not receive it well.
  • Saying “no” to a request.
  • Sharing when a boundary has been crossed and that you will no longer accept the other person’s behavior.
  • Asking for what you want and need.

The list may be longer depending on your own experience.

I have good news!

I’m about to share five best practices that will help you in these situations, but you play a big part in this, too. The more you prepare and practice, the easier it will be to do time and again. These tips have helped me reduce worry and anguish over thoughts like, “What if this goes terribly wrong? What if the other person hates me or spreads negative words about me?”

And I’ve seen my clients grow their communication skill sets along with their confidence! They know they can do hard things and are better for the experiences.

Five best practices to lead courageous conversations:

1. Set your intention for the conversation.

Consider how you want to “show up” for the meeting to enable a constructive outcome. Do you want to demonstrate peace, kindness and warmth or do you want to show up ready for a battle? Do you want to listen more and ask questions to understand the other person’s point of view or do you want to dominate the conversation?

Your intention for the conversation will drive your tone of voice, gestures and even your words. Leaders who present themselves as calm, compassionate and high-warmth are more likely to engage in healthy and effective conversations.

2. Maximize healthy communications and minimize toxicity.

This may be a given for some, but I’ve learned that it’s important to distinguish between healthy and toxic communications before you engage in a courageous conversation. Differences between healthy and toxic communications weren’t commonly taught in schools, so here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Healthy communications demonstrate inclusivity of thought, respectfulness, kindness and compassion.
  • Toxic communications demonstrate defensiveness, criticism of a person’s character, disregard for the other person or a desire to disengage from the conversation.

If the other person engages in toxic communication, try to redirect the conversation back to healthier communication. This can be easier said than done, so the next best practices are designed to help you.

3. Prepare for your triggers.

Triggers are actions, words, or behaviors that can anger you, distress you, or activate your amygdala. The amygdala is the part of your brain that is responsible for your flight or fight response. When this gets triggered, your body immediately gets flooded with stress hormones, and your ability to make rational decisions is minimized.

Knowing what your triggers are can help you minimize the flight or fight response by choosing to stay focused and take actions that are de-stressing and calming like deep breathing or taking a short break.

What are your triggers? A few common triggers include, seeing an unpleasant name pop-up on your email or phone, a negative change in the tone of voice, defensive behavior, etc. Once you identify your triggers, what action(s) will you take to remain calm and focused?

4. Find a common goal.

Top negotiators know that it’s important to understand the other person’s motivations and concerns for moving forward. If you find you’re not on the same page during the discussion, ask lots of questions to gather more insights and information. I call this “gathering data.”

The more data you can gather about the other person’s motivations and concerns, the more likely you are to uncover a goal you share. Perhaps this goal is to move forward in a way that serves the greater good of the company, team or client. Maybe your common goal is to improve communications with each other so you can minimize the need for another courageous conversation.

Once you find a common goal, then refer back to that goal over and over during the conversation. As you discuss next steps, brainstorm ideas together that align with your common goal.

5. Lean on your powerful boundaries.

Let’s face it, not all conversations end with a handshake and praise for one another. If you’re sensing that the discussion is getting out of hand or you’re at an impasse, lean on your boundaries. Boundaries are the invisible shields each one of us have that protect our emotional, physical and spiritual needs. When a boundary is crossed, we know it. We can feel anger, anxiety, fear and sadness, to name a few emotions.

In order for boundaries to be effective, we must determine a consequence for when a boundary is crossed. Sometimes a consequence may be ending a conversation or expressing the behavior you desire. The key is to pre-plan for the consequence(s) you choose, and then follow-through with the consequence(s). Otherwise, a boundary becomes a wish and isn’t effective.

Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More, says, “We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings.” So true. A boundary helps you prioritize and maintain your well-being.

Now that you have discovered five best practices for leading courageous conversations (yes, there are more!), which one(s) will you enlist now as you prepare for your next meeting?

If your organization can benefit from a workshop on Leading Courageous Conversations, send me a note. We can schedule a 20 minute no-obligation chat to review your particular organization’s needs. I’m happy to share more information and can customize a workshop that is right for you.

You’ve got this!