I don’t know how we think we can avoid it. Our organizations are made up of people with different personalities, expectations, cultural experiences, and communication styles working together 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. Why on earth would we think there won’t be any conflict! And sadly, a 2019 SHRM culture report says, “Nearly 4 in 10 employees U.S. workers say their manager fails to frequently engage in honest conversations about work topics.”

This is why it’s so important for you to lean in and learn how to have courageous conversations, regardless of whether you’re in a leadership role or not. When you create a culture of honesty and trust that deals with issues head on, you’ll better retain your staff and have greater satisfaction in your work.

To help you get started, here’s a checklist for what you need to do to prepare for a courageous conversation.

Preparing for a Courageous Conversation Checklist

  1. Do your research. Have you just heard one complaint and were personally triggered? Or have you checked in with a number of people you trust, asked open-ended questions, and learned more about what occurred? And then remember you don’t know everything and keep an open mind.
  2. Be clear on what outcome you want. Are you just trying to be right, or are you honestly trying to find a shared solution? Have you already decided what the outcome has to be or are you open to this being a dialogue? It helps to think of the bigger outcome. For example, instead of thinking of it as “getting this colleague to stop being territorial,” your goal could be “to create a more trusting and collaborative workplace.”
  3. Check your attitude. Are you able to consider different points of view, have empathy, and give the person the benefit of the doubt, or are you there to prove them wrong? It can be helpful to process any intense feelings you are having with a trusted colleague or friend. Find someone who does not fan the flames of emotion, but helps you see different perspectives or point out where your ego or fears are getting in the way. Practicing the conversation with them is also very helpful.
  4. Know your own conflict handling style: Knowing your style and potentially the style of your colleague can help you understand what challenges you may have and better prepare. If, for example, you are naturally an accommodator, you will want to make sure you are clear on what you actually are talking about and practice holding presence and continuing in conversation when it gets difficult. Or if you are more of a competitor, you want to make sure you are not intimidating or pushing someone into compliance, but having a more collaborative conversation.

Now that you’re prepared to have the conversation, it’s time to actually do it.

  1. Start in and continue to return to a centered and grounded place. How you are is even more important than what you say. You know what its like to walk into a room and someone is tight and anxious…you immediately feel the same. The more you are in a calm centered state the more the conversation has potential of coming to a helpful resolution. If you are wondering how to do this, and get out of your flight and fight go back to my previous blog post for tools and strategies.
  2. Be clear from the beginning. The strategy of saying something nice about the person right before getting into a courageous conversation feels icky and fake to me. I would much rather have someone speak clearly right away about what we need to talk about that also includes their intentions for the conversation. That might sound something like this, “Karen, I would like to talk about _________, and first I want to get your perspective on this.” Or “Karen, I know it may be uncomfortable for us to talk about ________, but it’s important for me to hear your perspective and for us to come to a mutual understanding.” For more great ideas on how to start these conversations, check out this article.
  3. Be curious and open. You will find it hard at first until you get used to it, but you want to ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to share their perspective and experience without you interrupting or arguing your point. Listen to understand and mirror back or summarize what they say, asking them if you are hearing it correctly. Remember, getting a clear understanding of how they see or feel about things doesn’t mean you agree. And the more you do this, the more you will understand, the more they will feel heard, and the less this will be about winning.
  4. Share your perspective. Thank them for sharing and then say, “Do you mind if I also share my perspective on this?” Then be as clear as possible about what behaviors you are seeing, the impact they are having, and what you are seeing needs a different approach.
  5. Problem-solve a solution together. It’s important to partner with each other to find the right solution so there’s agreement and accountability. Explore what your team member can focus on to improve or grow and how you can help them. You may also identify some solutions that involve what YOU need to do differently next time. Remember, we all own some responsibility in both the situation that led to the conversation and the solution you pursue.

These conversations are not easy ones, but they are so important to help you build a relationship of trust and growth. I know you can be a leader who leans in and begins developing your ability to have these conversations!


Other blogs in this series on collaboration:
  1. Can We All Get Along?
  2. Breaking Out of Organizational Silos
  3. Managing Your Fight-or-Flight Response for More Courageous Conversations
  4. Follow This Checklist to Prepare for Courageous Conversations (this post)