Improving Through Courageous Conversations

As a leader, there is a variety of challenging interpersonal situations that you will need to address.

When people aren’t following through on assignments, you meet resistance, or you’ve been misunderstood, you will need to have a courageous conversation.

Left unaddressed, situations like these will affect the performance of the entire team—and perhaps the success of the entire organization. The ability to communicate effectively in tough situations ensures that you will be able to create a positive team culture and lead the team to higher levels of performance.

The Importance of Communication

A research study conducted by Leadership IQ found that 81% of managers had avoided confronting a challenging issue with a direct report, 89% had avoided approaching their manager about a tough problem, and 93% had difficulty addressing issues with a peer.

Confronting challenging situations head-on is a skill that can be difficult to master. While our intentions may be pure, it’s always possible that the other person will perceive them differently. Our view of the situation might be quite different from theirs. Sometimes the fear of confrontation holds us back from taking needed action.

The consequences of ignoring or failing to resolve tough issues can be very high. People may withhold information or fail to be accountable for their actions. When problems aren’t corrected, it often results in lower commitment, engagement, and productivity.


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Mastering these conversations requires a real mindset shift. As a leader, you must first recognize the impact that not having the conversation will have in the workplace. Then, you must commit to engaging in the discussion. It’s the only way to gain mutual understanding. While the parties may not agree on every point, it’s important to understand the information available.

Making Decisions Through Communication

Once you have a mutual understanding, both parties can make informed choices about their actions moving forward. You will want to demonstrate your desire to listen to the other person’s perspective, even when he or she opposes your point of view. Both parties have control over their personal emotional reactions and how they engage in finding a solution.

It helps to prime the conversation before getting into too much detail about the subject at hand. For example, you might say, “I have a concern. I would like to share my thinking about it with you and then get your thoughts.” A statement like this sets the stage for the conversation to occur. It also prepares the other person to have an honest, open, heart-to-heart discussion without immediately putting them on the defensive.

After opening the conversation, you will need to state your position and explain your thinking. It’s helpful to check for understanding before moving on to problem resolution. Simply pausing and asking a question like, “What is your reaction to what I have said?” will give the other person the opportunity to respond and share their perspective.

Then you can explore their thinking on the topic and work towards reaching an agreement. Engaging in a courageous conversation ensures that both of you are committed and accountable for the outcome. Visit the CMOE website to find more tools, information, and training that will help you master even the most difficult conversations you will need to hold with your team.

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About the Author


CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.