Tough Conversations lead to Better Conclusions

It’s a simple idea and so obvious that, like many obvious things, I hadn’t given this much thought until recently.

It came to mind when my colleague, Diane Brown, had to provide advice to friends during the liquidation of their business. The pressures of the financial failure were intense. Senior managers faced the awful task of talking to the employees and creditors who queued to challenge them. Everyone felt a genuine need to do the right thing but there were no simple answers. The natural desire was to bury heads and hope that the problems would go away. Which of course, they didn’t.

The Lessons

As always, the lesson that emerged was that it is better to deal with bad news than to ignore it. When the worst is known it can be managed. The imagined fear is the midnight horror of the unknown.

At a more prosaic level we are all inclined to avoid even the most minor conversational challenges. You know the kind of thing:

  • I am afraid you missed promotion this time;
  • I’m sorry but the delivery will be late;
  • I apologise that the product under-performed.

The extraordinary thing is that facing up to these unpleasant conversations invariably makes things better. Once the truth is in the open it becomes possible to manage the consequences. Of course, the opposite is also true. Hide from the nastiness; put off the evil hour and everything, invariably, gets worse.

How can we help ourselves face these challenging moments?


In my mind the most important thing is to face the reality with an absolute sense of personal integrity. You need to know that what you are doing is the right thing, no matter how hard it may be to execute. Fail in this and you are going to end up either lying or, at best, obfuscating the truth. Once you know in your heart that you are doing the right thing, for the individual and for the business, then you always have the certainty that your action is a painful necessity.

Caring Enough

Second, you must really and genuinely care about the message and the person to whom you are delivering it. If you do care, then you will have no option but to show true compassion. Compassion will help you recognise that, no matter how hard this is for you, it is at least as bad for the person with whom you are talking.


Third, you have to be absolutely honest. Hide anything and you become a hostage to fortune. One day it will emerge. Once things are in the open they can be managed.


Fourth, deal with it now. Don’t delay unless you are certain you have a reason. For delay to have any validity you have to know that something is going to change. If not, then act now. The waiting time only builds the fear for everyone.

The Benefits

The joy of following this advice is that once you have taken the first step, faced the fear and had the conversation, you will invariably find that doing it for the second time becomes a little easier. Of course, it never becomes simple. It never stops hurting and you will always pay a price for the effort.

Leadership at its Best

Being an effective and powerful leader and manager requires tough conversations. If you cannot face up to them you will never be either. If you keep caring and if you value the people with whom you deal then you can and you will face the demons. The people who work with and for you will respect your values and your own confidence and sense of self-worth with grow.

Dialogue Consulting

In conjunction with our partners at UpAGear, Dialogue Consulting provides individual and team coaching to help managers and leaders perform to their maximum capacity.

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