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What Stops a Courageous Conversation?

We all know we need to have them, we all know they are valuable, we know that sooner rather than later is a better approach, yet everyday we avoid and put off having courageous conversations.

Most people I talk to dislike being the bearer of bad news and so avoid giving people feedback, primarily due to fear of how the person may react and the possible outcome. Some people avoid any kind of emotional outburst at all cost, especially if there is the possibility of defensiveness or anger, preferring to keep things as drama free as possible. So while we ‘get’ the rationale of why it is important to tackle the conversation, we get lost in our own internal thoughts that convince us that things will be better off if we say nothing and avoid the drama all together.

Courageous conversations are usually the conversations we don’t want to engage in.  The conversations we know we “should” be having and take “courage” to have.  The conversations where more often than not, the real blocker is us.

Recently, I was in the fortunate position of working with a senior leadership team who found the real power behind having a team courageous conversation came from simply initiating the conversation and putting the ‘elephant in the room’ on the table.  Initiating the conversation is often the hardest step.

However, one thing is vital for any courageous conversation to have a chance of being successful…. “intention”.  Initiate a courageous conversation with the intention of helping that person improve their performance or at the very least become more self aware, and you will be more likely to have a successful outcome.

If you have been putting off a conversation because you’re afraid of the outcome here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Get in early before the problem gets too big and more difficult to manage.
  2. Be clear about what the issue is, and remember that this is not an opportunity to slam dunk someone but to improve a situation.
  3. Take time to prepare for the conversation and think about the person and how they are likely to react, what language they respond positively and negatively to?
  4. If you’re anxious about the conversation, get some coaching either from a trusted, confidential, internal person who’s skilled in this area, or from an external coach.

Another way to kick start having a courageous conversation is to ask yourself how are you helping the person concerned by NOT having the conversation? Will the person continue to behave poorly and be oblivious to how they impact you and others and perhaps even think that what they are doing is ok? What is the worst that will happen if you have the conversation and what is the worst that will happen if you don’t have the conversation?

We see leaders avoid having courageous conversations every day. Once they embrace the challenge and initiate we see conversations that transform trust, commitment and performance.

So ask yourself, what is the courageous conversation you need to be having?


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