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Navigating Critical Conversations: Tips for Positive Outcomes

By July 9, 2024Podcasts

Critical conversations are an inevitable part of our lives, both personally and professionally. And while they’re often necessary, they can make us want to run and hide in fear of things going truly pear shaped.

However, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to have those difficult conversations when required – not only for the betterment of the individual, but the organisation as a whole.

It’s from my own challenging experiences that I’ve come to realise that while we can’t control how others will react, we are in control of our own actions and the way in which we lead.

Today, I’m going to share with you my top tips for navigating critical conversations and creating the positive outcomes we aim to achieve from them.

Get Prepared

Giving someone feedback or constructive criticism can be challenging – especially if the person you’re dealing with gets emotional or defensive. In this scenario, things can go off track quickly if you’re not adequately prepared. I encourage you to write down what you’re wanting to say in order to stay on point and bring the conversation back to where it needs to be. Equip yourself with the tools to have a productive conversation, and you’ll give yourself the best chance of navigating it with confidence.

Choose the Right Time and Place

I am a big believer of public praise and private criticism. Pulling someone up in a public setting is risky, and not entirely respectful to them. Rather, have the conversation privately – perhaps taking them out of the workplace and onto even ground.

Additionally, be aware of when you’re asking to have the interaction. There’s nothing worse than grabbing someone at 5pm for a discussion when you’re both a little worn out. Ideally, schedule a time and place that suits you both.

Actively Listen

Often, when we’re in a critical conversation, we’re so focused on getting our point across that we forget to truly listen to the other person. Active listening involves not just hearing the words but also understanding the emotions and intentions behind them. This means asking open-ended questions, reflecting back what you’ve heard, and validating the other person’s feelings. By doing so, you demonstrate respect for their perspective, which can help de-escalate tension and foster mutual understanding.

Be Clear and Concise

Being direct yet respectful is key when you’re leading a critical conversation. Provide specific examples of what you are talking about, whether it’s around performance or behaviour, ensuring they’re relevant to the outcomes you want to achieve. I also recommend using “I” statements instead of “you” statements, focusing on how the actions affect you and others, rather than blaming the other person for their bad behaviour.

Watch Your Language

It’s important to avoid using accusatory language when having a critical conversation. Rather than defaulting to “you did this” or “you did that”, try reframing things to be about what you’ve “observed”. Asking open-ended questions can completely change the dynamic, enabling the other person to think about their response, rather than react defensively.

Remember, it’s natural for emotions to run high during a confronting interaction, but staying calm, respectful and in control can help keep the dialogue productive.

Navigating critical conversations doesn’t have to be daunting – I hope this episode provides you with the tools and confidence you need to approach your next one with clarity and ease.


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