Effective and successful results in the workplace are key to your success.

Your key role as a leader and member of the organisation is to be a part of a positive solution that boosts team spirit, helping your staff and colleagues to get moving and motivated in the same direction.

Your staff and colleagues could be seen as the people you work with, friends or even foes. And, you need them in order to achieve effective and successful results at all levels of the organisation.

Often, this means having to have tough conversations to sort stuff out. And, yet, for most people who ARE prepared to have these tough conversations, the frustration lies with those who ARE NOT.

The Costs of Silence: 3 Scary Statistics

During a recent talk I gave, I shared some scary statistics from Alec Grimsley’s book on Vital Conversations:

  1. 1
    70% of teams interviewed said that at least 1 member of their team had displayed consistent¸ inappropriate or destructive behaviour that had gone unchallenged by the team’s manager for over a year
  2. 2
    And of this database, 30% reported that this employee’s behaviour had gone unchallenged for over 3 years
  3. 3
    2 out of 10 people actually have the confidence to have tough conversations (yes, that’s 20%!)

2 out of 10 of us have the confidence to have tough conversations

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So, keeping quiet is not the solution. If you see problems in your organisation but are NOT PREPARED (due to politicking and fear of negative backlash), CONFIDENT or ABLE TO BRING UP THE TOPIC and see it to its conclusion, you are not alone. And, yet, as you can see, the price for keeping quiet can be huge as you can see from the statistics!

Let’s explore for a moment, the reality of what’s going on with the 80%.

tough conversation continuum

On the one side of the continuum are managers who are too soft with their staff and on the other side of the spectrum are managers whose hard-line approach deflate and breaks team spirit and morale. In the middle lies the sweet spot, where Assertive Adult-Adult conversations can take place.

Neither of the extreme approaches on the “Tough Conversations Continuum” works…


Madam Be-Nice Versus Mr Scary

madam be nice

Madam Be-Nice

Behaviours: Avoidance, Ignores The Problem, Pretends The Problem Doesn’t Exist, Rewards Poor Behaviour
Results: Poor Performance, Low Morale, Disrespect, Frustration

mr scary

Mr Scary

Behaviours: Demanding, Overly-Critical, Un-empathetic, Hard
Results: Fear, Stress, Demotivation, Burn-Out, Break down of Trust

An important note: having a tough conversation will NEVER be a comfortable, easy process. Why? Because to have a tough conversation means raising emotional issues that take self-control to manage and work through. To reach the sweet spot which lies in the middle of the continuum means raising difficult issues respectfully and with the intent to resolve issues, not attack or avoid the people you are having conversations with.

So, how do we encourage our colleagues who really need to have tough conversations, to have them in a way that will build and deepen relationships?

The following are my 7 Bright Ideas on this subject:

It Starts With You

Consider your culture – if you already have a culture of gossip and back-biting, it’s going to be very difficult to encourage tough conversations without there being a role model for people to aspire to. Are you ready to confront Madam Be-Nice and Mr Scary about a better, more positive way to deal with their workplace challenges?

Be a Coach

You already have the skills and self-awareness of tough conversations. Are you prepared to ask gentle, probing and consistently persistent questions to get Madam Be-Nice and Mr Scary to recognise the error of their ways?

Set Clear Boundaries and Guidelines

Set clear boundaries and guidelines around tough conversations and the importance of having these in organisations – facilitate (don’t dictate, facilitate) a discussion with your people around what they want to see happen around disagreements and what measures you all agree to on how to have a difficult/tough conversation. Unless you have the hard discussions before a conflict of opinion occurs, it’s very hard to set up boundaries once the boundaries have been crossed.

What’s working?

Ask your colleagues how well their approach is working for them. Chances are, once you get them to open up and really be honest, their behaviour of too much or too little confrontation is harming more than helping them achieve their goals.

Key questions to ask include:

  1. 1
    What’s really going on here?
  2. 2
    Is that helping or hindering what you are trying to achieve?
  3. 3
    What does success look like to you?
  4. 4
    What could you be doing to enable your team?
  5. 5
    How could you approach your staff to get their buy-in and support
  6. 6
    What else could you try?
  7. 7
    How will you measure the success of your approach?

Learning the Skills

Investigate courses that they can attend to build their confidence, skills and knowledge around assertiveness and having tough conversations. Skill Junction offers a 1-day programme called Conversations that Count that helps to build emotional resilience and includes core skill building to address the tough conversations.


If you catch them doing the right thing, even if it’s just a piece of public praise to their colleague that you happen to hear, acknowledge it.

Help Them See the Bigger Picture

The statistics out there are pretty conclusive that keeping silent or pushing too hard, lead to broken relationships, hostility and a lack of respect for your leadership.

Attacking or Avoiding are not a solution. Learning the skills to have conversations that count could be. Are you prepared to step up and make the difference you need to be in your department, business or organisation?

Over to You:

  1. 1
    What are some of the reasons people in your organisation don’t have conversations they should be having?
  2. 2
    What tips do you have to help people have the conversations they need to have?
  3. 3
    How do you overcome people’s perceptions that tough conversations should be avoided rather than had?

Best wishes with influencing others to have conversations that will count!

See you at the top,

Signature Sign Off - Kerry Anne Cassidy

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