How to have a Difficult Conversation

How to have a Difficult Conversation

Have you ever had to have a challenging conversation and not known how to go about it?

Whether you call them difficult conversation or constructive conversations or courageous conversations, what we are really talking about is a conversation that you might normally want to avoid.

That might be giving someone feedback that’s a bit challenging, talking to someone where you have a different perspective, talking to someone who might come across very aggressively and just knowing how to deal with it.

Are you thinking, I am not sure I know what a constructive/brave or courageous conversation then it might be useful to reflect on the following:

Do you find you are having a conversation about someone?  If you are not talking to them but are spending time talking about them to someone else, then you are probably in a place where you are avoiding having a difficult conversation?.

If that is the case, the next step is to prepare for it.  As with most things making it feel more manageable and being able to prepare for it will not only make for something that feels less uncomfortable it will also have better outcomes.

Once you feel prepared, go into the conversation with a positive constructive mind-set.  If you are going to go in that anxious, stressed mind-set then the chances are that will then be felt by the other person and that might influence some of their behaviours.

Where are you on the OK- Corral (see below)?  For a conversation to be valuable and not descend onto an argument you need both to be in the top right hand corner:  Assertive or Actively constructive.  This means you are both OK and not one of you in defensive or aggressive places that can lead to destructive arguments.

The OK Corral


To allow for the other person to be prepared, ask for their permission, in a non-confrontational way ask if you may give them feedback.  Give the person enough time to recognise that it’s going to be a really helpful and constructive conversation.

When sharing your thoughts or feedback be mindful of your language, you can inadvertently say things you do not mean.  Watch out for the use of “but”.  For instance, “you have done a really great job, but there is something I need to talk about”.  Replacing the “but” with an “and” “you have done a really great job, and there is something I need to share”, means that you do not negate the first positive part and are building on that positive base.

And then avoid thing like passive aggressive phrases where as I have said before, or with all due respect.  Be truthful.  It it essential that the difficult conversation is constructive, that you’re honest and that you are thinking about how that person is going to receive your messge.   And then allowing them to provide their thoughts around it.

Finally think about it as a joint solution where it’s not about what they are going to do but what are you going to do together.

In summary:

  • Prepare your thoughts and be in an Active Constructive mindset.
  • Recognise where they are in the OK corral (see above).
  • Describe the situation as a problem to be solved jointly.
  • Don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking.
  • Encourage them to share how they felt about the situation.
  • Listen, give attention and ease.
  • Acknowledge what they said and the impact that the situation has had on them.
  • Ask open questions to help expand the conversation.
  • Ask for permission when providing feedback: “May I give you some feedback”
  • Respond don’t react: recognise your emotions, consider your response.
  • Avoid the use of: “BUT”, Why questions and “As I said before” phrases.


Consider doing these things.


  1. Build a rapport with the person, get to know what works for them
  2. Consider what you are going to say
  3. Ensure you seek permission before doing so
  4. Be impartial, this is not what about what you think but what you observe
  5. Be consistent and persistent
  6. Be willing to receive feedback


And avoid these to ensure you have a successful outcome.


  1. Make light of your feedback or undermine the feedback being given
  2. Be aggressive or passive aggressive
  3. Use it as an excuse to address issues you have, this should be about areas they wish to address
  4. Ignore the behaviour – you are therefore complicit in it!
  5. Treat everyone the same, people respond to different types of feedback


As with most things the more often you do the more comfortable you will be and therefore the better the overall outcome. Don’t let it become a big issue, nip things in the bud!


The Power of Connecting with People

The Power of Connecting with People

Empathetic Leaders
Connecting with People

Why do we sometimes find that we are not believed to be as empathetic as we feel we are?  I think there are a number of causes, which are: not knowing what empathy really means, not being interested in developing the skills or choosing to only do it with some people.

I recently worked with a client who did not enjoy managing up, they did not feel it was genuine.  Their senior management were quite different and so it seemed easier for themto avoid them.  This was a mistake.  It is essential that you are able to connect with your senior management, and peers as well as your team.  We worked out what was holding them back.  As they were so good at connecting with other people, it was possible to apply what he was already good at to the job of connecting with Senior Management.

This is not an unusual situation.


People like People like them

Typically we are comfortable with people who are like us.  Connecting with people who share our motivations and values is easier than working with people who have a different perspectives.  If you want to be a great leader you need to embrace diversity.  You need to be able to connect with people at all levels, with different perspectives and experiences.  This is what separates a great leader from an average leader.

I have 3 thoughts that can have a big impact on your ability to connect with anyone:

Suspend judgment:

Avoid judging people who are different, don’t label them or create stories about who they are or what they do.  This may mean that you assume they won’t be able to or interested in doing something.  You may then adapt the way you work with them. This is likely to be something you do unconsciously and it can seriously impact your ability to connect with the person.  Find out who they are. Ask them: what motivates them? What gets them excited?

Don’t make assumptions:

Don’t make assumption about someone’s behaviour.  The reason someone might appear to be lacking in motivation might not be directly related to the work.  Ask questions, find out what is happening with them, what can you do to help?

Be Curious:

Really try to understand where someone is.  It is an essential part of empathy.  What are they saying, don’t listen intending to reply, listen with deep attention and curiosity.


When I coach leaders or hold leadership workshops, the transformation begins once the leader acknowledges their part in the problem. We then explore the “cost” to them and what it would take to change their behaviours.  I often find that this is not about new behaviours or skills, but a reminder to my client to consciously use skills that they have gained but lose when pressure of the job takes over.


As a leader you need to develop your self-awareness. so that your understand your impact, spend time with your colleagues, be present and in the moment. 

How to Achieve a Compelling Vision

How to Achieve a Compelling Vision

Compelling Vision
A Compelling Vision

WHY do we need a VISION?  Because everyone needs to feel connected to a goal or purpose.  The vision provides the overarching reason for why we are doing something.  We can sometimes feel like small cogs in a big machine.  

During the industrial revolution era each job was broken down into smaller tasks.  In effect there was a conveyor belt of tasks which created the end product.  No-one had a view of the whole picture.  There were foremen and managers to keep us on task and motivated. Now, we are more used to having a say and influence over what we do.  And we do not respond well to the carrot and stick approach, rather we want to feel like we are making a difference or having an impact.  

Knowing how we are supporting the visions helps us to become self-motivated and responsible for our own activity.  It means we can be connected to the vision of our leader.  This gives us purpose: “fulfil that vision and be part of the team striving to achieve the goal”.

Are you a leader of a growing business or team and struggling to get your team connected to your vision?  Here are some killer questions to help you get there…

Do you have clarity of purpose and a supporting vision?  We often struggle to succinctly explain what our vision is, and when we say it out-loud it might not sound quite right.  Which in turn prompts another question: is the vision wrong or are we not doing the right things? 

So, let’s consider where the vision came from and how recently was it reviewed.  The answers to these questions are often that it came from the wider vision, was created some time ago and has never been revisited.  I have heard “well, we look at it each year when we review our objectives and it feels OK”.  But what we don’t do is: test it or ask our teams how they feel about, read it out aloud to people, notice how it lands, and take feedback.  It is important that we challenge ourselves to consider whether it is moving the business along or just describing the status quo.

Co-creation is key

So, your vision is up-to-date and seems to be relevant, however you are still struggling to get people to connect with it.  I ask:  was this vision co-created?  By this I mean, did everyone have an opportunity to feed into the process. I’ve found that those visions created with the team have far more impact.  We do our best thinking with others so, it will also be richer.  I always recommend working with the team to understand what language is meaningful, ensure that the message is clear and unambiguous and then test it out. Does it resonate, jar or confuse?

Once it has been co-created, I ask:  Is everyone in your leadership team aligned to that vision?  It is essential that everyone agree and be comfortable with the wording.  You want them to be able to communicate it themselves to their teams and beyond.   Are the wider team aware of it and would they be able to quote it?

If you are happy that your vision is ticking all the boxes, I challenge you to ask yourself does it reflect what we are doing now?   A vision is not something to create and then put on the shelf.  It needs to be a living breathing thing that everyone feels connected to.  The team members must be able to see how they are going to influence it and how they are making a difference.   When the business changes, or the team changes it is a good opportunity to review is it still relevant.  Ask yourself is it still aligned to your business priorities?  This should be reviewed regularly and tested to ensure that it is still relevant and actively make time to work on, as well as, in the business.


How to Deliver to Your Vision

How to Deliver to Your Vision

Delivering the Vision

Once you have created an engaging vision that everyone feels connected to, the next thing to do is to make it become a reality.  I believe that these 3 stages are critical to making that vision happen:

  1. Strategy creation and action
  2. Connecting the dots
  3. Making it happen
Strategy Creation and Action

Identify the key priorities that will achieve your vision.  These could be something that is lacking or fixing something that is not working. For example:

1) A People pillar or a “way of working”.  This will create the right environment in which the team can thrive and flourish as individuals and team members. Consider objectives such as: clarity of what they expect from each other, to create a culture that is supportive and collaborative.  

2) A Sales pillar that is focussed on creating a new pitch or sales offer.  

3) A Procedural pillar to create new processes and routines that will allow the business to transform into the organisation that the vision defines.  

I recommend that a leader is assigned to each of these pillars, with a max of five pillars, who will create their own visions for these pillars with their team champions.  Create a single combined plan of action, for the pillars, that includes both short and long term activities and identifies the interdependencies between the pillars.

Connecting the Dots

Recruit all of the organisation or department into this programme, aligning everyone to at least one of the pillars.  Create a clear language that brings people together, that is clear and unambiguous.  Work with them to co-create the activities that will deliver the vision.  Create training and coaching programmes that help them attain the required skills.   Ensure that everyone is connected to the programme and understands their role and contribution. In time they will become the champions of the activity and help to promote this initiative.

Making it Happen

Create a programme of work with achievable milestones, which are celebrated: create posters, z-cards, mouse mats and other tangible articles that help it to feel real for everyone.  Do not create a leviathan of a project that will deliver everything in 12 months time.  It is important that the change is felt quickly and the benefits start to be felt across the team.  The activity involves “working on the business”, however is should be felt every day whilst “working in the business”.  Create small steps that can be achieved each week, roll out and test new approaches and start to transform the organisation from within, in small distinct steps.

As the leader, keep everyone honest, maintain the momentum and keep the energy high…  it will be hard work and often people will fall into old habits, gently remind them of their commitment.  The journey is as important as the destination for creating a highly successful business which develops and grows together.

For more ideas, read this blog post…

How to Create an Engaging Purpose

How to Create an Engaging Purpose

Giving People Purpose

As leaders, we are expected, to define the vision for the organisation, team or group.  It is true that people find a common purpose as essential to them feeling connected to the organisation.  Dr Jacqueline Peters (@DrJacquelineP) states that a “Purpose provides the energy to overcome problems”.  In my experience, as both a leader and working with my coaching clients, it can often be challenging to get your team engaged.   They need to feel connected to the overall vision.  Therefore, creating a vision that gives people purpose is essential.

How do you as the leader achieve this?

I will start with how “not to do it”.  I strongly recommend you do not shut yourself away for hours and/or days trying to come up with a clever set of words that communicate some incredibly large aspirational and inspirational statement.  There are two reasons for this:

1) We often do our best thinking when we have someone else’s attention. So, working in isolation means we may get stuck on the same words and end up refine something that is not very creative.

2) It is easier to get people engaged in the long run if they are part of the original thinking process.

In my experience, the most effective way of creating a vision, is working together as a team to define what their  “Why” is.  As Simon Sinek says; we often refer to what we do or how we do something rather than why we do something.

Understanding why we are a team, or even at the individual level why are we there, can help us to truly understand our purpose.  That genuinely identifies the uniqueness of the organisation, group or team.  In order to get to your purpose I recommend writing up 3 sets of words: Words that do not align with the business, those that do or will and those that are ambiguous and unclear. Then ensure that your vision uses words the are clear and unambiguous, whilst clarifying the ambiguous words, perhaps in a glossary.  I also suggest you do not try to do this in one session.  It takes time to get to the right vision statement, let it “prove” between sessions and ensure that everyone is contributing and engaged with the process.

Once you have it, use it.  And I mean all the time, everyone should be able to quote it and feel proud of it.   As the leader, encourage the team to test that everything they are doing supports it….

For more ideas, read this blog post…

3 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely as a Leader

3 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely as a Leader

Often I hear that it is “lonely’ at the top, and I believe that the historic view of the role of leadership, as the one with all of the answers have exacerbated this.  The leader is expected to come up with the vision, inspire, manage and motivate people.  At the same time as dealing with escalations and issues of the business, and more than likely dealing, with all of the financial challenges.  There are, however, three ways that the leader can ensure that they do not become isolated and also engage the team, in turn becoming a better leader:

  1. Work with your Leadership team
  2. Work with peers
  3. Get a Mentor

Working with your Leadership Team

The first is essential, and not just to help to make it better for the leader.  By working closely with the Leadership team, you will deliver better results for the organization, ensure that the team are engaged and create the new leaders of tomorrow.  When I say working with, I mean just that.  Bring the team together and let them be involved in the thinking process and give them the opportunity to influence the vision and objectives.  Of course they may come up with some strange ideas, (you probably do to!), however, you will come up with stronger visions, that people feel connected to and at the same time you are helping them to think slowly and creatively.

Every team I work with to come up with a vision, struggles initially.  It is a skill to come up with a vision that really connects everyone and often it starts as a wordy feel of “business speak” statement.  I recommend that you get all of the key words down on the page, throw out the words that are ambiguous or jargon and start to hone the statement and then test it with your wider team.  You want to get to a phrase that everyone remembers and feels comfortable saying out loud!

Once you have worked with your team on the vision and how you are going to achieve it, your role is less of the person dragging reluctant people behind you and rather you become the conductor and facilitator of the engagement.  In my experience, this not only makes for a very rewarding leadership experience but it also delivers results!

Work with Peers

Whether these are people in the same organisation or outside of the organisation, share your experiences with them and support each other.  Encourage them to hold up the mirror to you and to supportively challenge you.  Creating a network of peers who are willing to share their stories and challenges, is a great way to get different perspectives and ensure you do not exist in an “echo chamber”, Feedback is a really valuable process for development and it is helpful to have a “safe” environment and trusted advisors with whom you can explore your approaches.

Get a Mentor

We all need to talk and to have someone who is able to give us their full attention is exceptionally powerful.  If you are lucky enough to have a mentor who has experience of sector and can share with you stories that might help you with difficult situations, then that is ideal. We are all likely to resist being told what we “should” do and so a mentor with a coaching style will be of most benefit for your development.

So, it doesn’t need to be lonely at the top, and as we become more collaborative the “lone leader” style of leadership is likely to die on the vine.  We must ensure we do not become isolated leaders and in engaging with our teams, we develop ourselves as a leaders and prepare the next generation of leaders for leadership.