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3 Ways To Make Tough Conversations Easier

Written by: Sara Mueller, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Tough-love conversations are necessary for shifting unproductive behavior and maintaining a positive, high-performance atmosphere within your organization. A lot of data suggests, however, that most managers and executives avoid difficult conversations most of the time. I bet this isn’t surprising to you. I’m sure you can think of at least one conversation you or one of your key employees needs to have that hasn’t taken place yet. Here are three ways to make having tough conversations easier, so you can lead to impactful results and a high-performance culture within your organization.

An upset man and woman sitting while having conversation in the office.

1. Start At The Bottom Of The Emotional Intelligence Ladder And Work Your Way Up.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is made up of four linear pillars. We first need to know ourselves (self-awareness, EQ pillar 1) so that we can manage ourselves (self-management, EQ pillar 2). Only when we know and manage ourselves can we understand and empathize with others (other's awareness, EQ pillar 3). And only once we’ve mastered the first three pillars of EQ can we begin to influence others and effectively manage conflict and tough-love conversations (relationship management, EQ pillar 4).

This is trickier to do than it sounds because data has shown that the majority of us think we are self-aware, whereas, in reality, only a small percentage of us actually are. If we don’t uncover our blind spots and recognize our areas for growth and stronger self-awareness, we will stay stuck in pillar one of emotional intelligence, thinking we are effective leaders, whereas, in actuality, we are not.

2. Foster A Culture That Embraces Conflict.

Conflict is a necessary part of the high-performance business. Data has long shown that diversity of thought and experience drives better solutions, risk mitigation, and innovation. So, if our team is afraid to share an unpopular opinion or walks around “yes-ing” us all day long to stroke our ego or get on the good side of the person who signs their paycheck, our organization can’t realize lasting success.

Instead, conflict needs to be welcomed, feedback and constructive conversations need to happen regularly (starting at the top), and your team needs to be rewarded for having the courage to do so.

3. Practice.

The only way we can gain confidence in a new skill or improve at something is through practice. We can script out what we want to say, including how we want the other person to feel at the end of the conversation, our desired outcome, and the shared purpose and common ground we have with the other person. We can have a personal story ready about how we faced a similar situation in the past and failed or succeeded and what we learned from it, so the other party is less defensive and able to connect to our authentic leadership.

We can then role-play the tough-love conversation with our leadership coach or a colleague or even in front of our bathroom mirror. And finally, we can simply have a conversation. The more we have tough-love conversations, the less daunting they will feel. We waste more time and energy ruminating on the discussion than actually having it. And what I’ve found is that once I finally begin the difficult conversation, the uncomfortableness tends to dissipate in less than a minute.

Could you or your team use some support in embracing conflict and effectively handling difficult conversations? Contact us to discuss different ways we can support you. Then get out there and have those crucial conversations!

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Sara Mueller, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Sara Mueller believes we CAN have it all. She helps leaders develop emotional intelligence, resilience, and high performance so they can balance an impactful career AND a meaningful family life. After being burnt out in her career and hitting rock bottom in her marriage, Sara realized that her limiting beliefs and unproductive patterns were blocking joy and success in all areas of her life. So, she underwent an intense journey of self-discovery, learning how to own her authentic power, presence, and purpose. She now teaches the key learnings of her transformation in her Self-Mastery Method coaching and leadership programs. Prior to becoming a Success Mentor, Sara spent nearly two decades developing optimization training programs for Fortune Global 500 executives while also teaching mindfulness and yoga to people from all walks of life. She’s a certified Conscious Parenting Coach and is regularly regarded as “life-changing,” “eye-opening,” and “one of the most engaging facilitators I’ve ever seen” by her beloved clients.



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