Communication mistakes to avoid in a difficult conversation

Some time or another everyone faces a time when a difficult conversation is necessary. It’s in those moments that your true leadership is tested.

You may be dealing with an underperforming employee, disagreeing with a spouse, or negotiating with a client. Difficult conversations come in all forms, but they have one thing in common: They’re not easy.

We all enjoy challenging others, helping them find their potential, motivating and inspiring them. But sometimes what we are called to do involves conveying bad news in challenging times—and our role as leaders is to have the courage to do it in a spirit of learning and exploration.

When the conversation is difficult and the stakes are high, the same communication mistakes that can create problems for you at any time become especially important.

Here’s a refresher course on how not to make things even harder:

Don’t assume

Don’t assume that people know what is going on—or that they know anything. As a leader, it’s your job to bring as much clarity as possible, so start at the beginning. People are looking to you to know what is going on and to share it with them concisely, clearly, and with candor. While you don’t want to provide irrelevant details that are likely to distract and confuse people, telling a story that everyone can understand with information they can comprehend will keep your credibility high.

Don’t hide your feelings

When times are tough, emotions are raw. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might attempt to hide your feelings out of fear of looking weak or vulnerable. But showing your emotions (ideally without losing it) lets those around us know there’s strength in vulnerability. A tender heart is as important as a tough mind.

Don’t ignore who you are

Sometimes to save face we act like what is happening around us isn’t what’s happening within us. That approach never serves anyone; it just makes you look and sound disconnected, disoriented and disheartening.

Don’t shut down

When conversations are difficult, bring a mindset of inquiry. Be open to hearing what the other person has to say and observing how they seem to be feeling. A good leader remains open and seeks a greater truth in any situation. This approach puts everyone at ease and helps keep people at their best.

Don’t judge

People are going to have a reaction to your message. Be the kind of leader who listens to the meaning of what people are not saying. Listen to the silence between the words not spoken. Listen to the feeling behind the words that are spoken.

Communicating well is difficult, especially when emotions are running high and no one is at their best.

But the more you can remain the leader who leads from within, the one who is open-minded and open-hearted, the better you will be able to connect and engage with your team even in the worst of times.

Lead from within

When situations are difficult, conversation is difficult. Trials test who we are and what we will do; they test our leadership, drawing us to awaken our empathetic mind and our sympathetic heart. And when we do, we will be the kind of leaders we were meant to be.

Thanks to Lolly Daskal for this guest post.