Canadian Pizza Magazine

Delivering tough conversations with integrity

By JoAn Majors   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

Four techniques to say what needs to be said, when no one wants to say it.

I’d like to see you in my office at the end of the day.”

I’d like to see you in my office at the end of the day.”  What is it about a request like this that makes everyone involved just dread the moment? Unfortunately, this is the way most people have learned to handle the concerns: take care of business and lay down the law.

When it comes to delivering tough conversations, starting with the right question and the right attitude can change everything about the encounter and the outcome. Many people simply cannot handle these types of conversations well. There are four guidelines, which will allow even the most timid at heart, as well as the brutally honest, a way to offer unpleasant information while maintaining integrity and having empathy.

It is important to remember a few guidelines, and critical you understand it doesn’t matter if the conversation is between a manager to subordinate, subordinate to CEO/manager, or teacher to parent. The ability to start with a question allows the other party to listen and participate at their rate of speed, not yours. You must be willing to wait for the answer. This allows the other party to actually choose to engage in the conversation.


Ask permission to coach
When you have an issue with a team member and need the individual to listen and participate in the actions that follow, you must engage them in the process. Consider calling the team member to your office and find something to compliment them on, and then; deliver the tough news about the issue at hand. Such as, “Susan, you are one of our best sales representatives. Do I have permission to coach you in another area?” She will most likely say yes because this is less brutal and it gives you the freedom to discuss her constant tardy behaviour or whatever the issue is. She is now involved by saying yes.  It is a symbiotic relationship not a reprimand.

Ask permission to be honest
In a situation where you have a subordinate who wants to confront an issue or challenge with someone in management, it works similarly but the words would be different. For instance, if you have a teacher to a parent/administrator or a team member to the CEO/doctor/lawyer/leader, most of these individuals want to maintain a good work environment but these conversations can be tricky.  We will use Susan again now with John.  Timing is important in these conversations and you would never want to make someone else look bad or foolish; this won’t serve you well, so be discreet.

Step into their office or schedule a time to go over a couple of concerns.  Susan might say, “John, Do I have permission to be honest with you?”  John will respond with less concern about the outcome because you have been respectful in your request.  Besides, who would say, “No, I want you to lie to me!” Often people will seem puzzled that you ask.  Don’t fill in the silence, wait for their response. However uncomfortable this might seem it will create the results you want by allowing both parties to listen differently.

Leave out the limiting terms
When speaking to someone about their habits, behaviours, or personal life, it is of utmost importance to leave out the limiting terms.  For instance, if you are going to discuss an area that is sensitive, the normal nature is to want people to like you so they will often use words like, we, little, sort of, kind of and other words that seem to make it less impactful. Let’s take a doctor to patient and manager to team member scenario. Dr. Likeme says, “Mrs. Smith we have a little spot on your X-ray.”  Her thought, if “we” have the spot and it’s “little” then you get the treatment! The manager says to the team member, “Susan, we have a little problem with your tardiness.”  The thought that follows, if “we” have the problem and it is “little,” don’t call me!  How about this, “Mrs. Smith, there is a spot on your X-ray and I am concerned and you should be too.”  This allows the patient to own the spot and their concern. For the manager and team member, “Susan there is a problem with your continuous tardiness; I am concerned and believe you should be too.” Both of these scenarios allow the person to hear the concern. These should only be shared after asking permission to be honest. We have already proven that this question allows the party to be engaged at a different level.  It also cuts down on the defensive mechanism we have.

Assume innocence
When having tough conversations don’t assume you know everything about the individual or the behaviour that is being displayed. It is often more than meets the eye and the very reason one should always assume innocence. When you ask for permission to coach or be honest, presume that the other party has no idea there is an issue or problem, assume innocence. Just because Susan is habitually tardy doesn’t mean she is doing it to disrespect you or the organization. Don’t assume that you know why this is happening. Susan could have a dying mother or a new diagnosis that is causing her to have blood work done often in the morning. Susan could have an issue that only you should investigate. Especially since she has been a great employee up to this point.  Assuming Susan is innocent is much more productive to everyone involved. Ask permission to coach and then ask if he/she can fulfil the request. Just ask; it is not only the question but the cure for misguided and bad relationships in businesses and elsewhere.  If you wonder what is happening, then just ask. But when you ask, don’t ask with an attitude, assume innocence and be curious…like a small child!

Remember, manager to team use permission to coach. Subordinate to manager use permission to be honest. Use words that don’t limit the impact of the information.

Lastly, assume innocence and stay away from accusatory language. These four techniques will cut down on the defense mechanism we all have in our personalities when we know bad news is coming! Focus on the fix not the flaw; this can help you encourage others to greatness!

JoAn Majors is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Global Speakers Network. As a professional speaker and published author, her systems deliver results and encouragement to the workplace and home. For more on her seminars and her latest book, “Encouragementors: 16 Attitude Steps for Building Your Business, Family & Future,” please visit: .

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