Management and Leadership Series Posted by David McDermott

Giving honest feedback, tackling a performance issue or dealing with conflict are conversations that are critical to every business. Yet they are also the kind of conversations that quickly become charged and uncomfortable. Here are the most common mistakes made when holding critical conversations and tips on how to make sure you do not fall into these traps:

1. Avoiding the issue

It is very important that you start your conversation with clarity of purpose. No need to go into a lot of detail, but do make it clear. For example, “I would like to address the way our teams are working together as I have picked up on some frustrations”.

2. One-way traffic

This is when the person initiating the conversation does too much talking. In your opening statement you should make it clear that you also want to hear their point of view. Therefore, ensure you ask lots of questions.

3. Wanting to be right

If you approach these conversations looking to be right, then someone has to be wrong. This means you have to prove it and you will then end up digging up the dirt and focusing too much on past wrongs. It is much more effective to approach these conversations looking to get a result for all concerned and a positive future outcome. This means you will be more solution and future focused.

4. Softening the feedback

There are two ways that this can be done. Firstly, people often say things like, “I’m sure you don’t mean it”. Secondly, it is often thought that you need to give positive feedback to balance any negative feedback. Whilst positive feedback is important, there is a time, a place and a way of giving it; that time is not during a critical conversation. When giving negative/sensitive feedback it is important to remember to stick to the facts.

5. Fixing the problem too quickly

People often look for a solution immediately after giving their negative feedback. This is too quick and is likely to be resisted. Remember, the other person has just received negative feedback and they need time to process it. How long this will take depends on the severity of the feedback and the personality of the recipient.

6. Ignoring the emotions

Typically, when receiving negative/sensitive feedback the recipient will experience emotions like shock, denial, anger and depression. It is your job to help them work through these. Acknowledging the other person’s emotions in a genuine manner shows empathy and will go a long way in helping to resolve the issue.

7. Yes but…

Lets face it we have all said it. What does it actually mean? It effectively means that you disagree and are likely to get a defensive response. Therefore, in a critical conversation, it is best to avoid these words. It is more effective to use, “Yes…and”. This can also help you acknowledge their difficulties and emotions. For example, “I appreciate that this is difficult to accept and would like to stress the benefits if we can find a resolution”.

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