Courageous Conversations in the Workplace

As we work with various organisations in matters of strategy and performance management, a key stumbling block to achieving results is the inability of line managers and subordinates to engage in robust, open and challenging conversations. These conversations push relationships to new levels of understanding, empathy, respect, support and changes needed. The best of strategies and performance plans fail without courageous conversations in the workplace.

A courageous conversation is a discussion where two or more persons are able to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner that leads to mutual trust, progress and agreements. 

What prevents us from having courageous conversations?

Our experience with workshop sessions and engagements shows a key reason to be FEAR.

How will the other person take this? What will I be thought of? Should I stand up to authority and position? What will be the consequences of my honesty? Will I be responsible for my subordinate’s performance review, and possibly compensation or increase? Will I hurt his or her feelings? Will I be accepted for raising the issue? Rather I not tell the truth and maintain the status quo than disrupt what is harmonious.

Other reasons include personality, lack of assertiveness skills, background, culture, feeling of betrayal, lack of internal security or confidence, personal egos, poor time management/ prioritising and lack of preparation.

What are the consequences of avoiding courageous conversations? 

  • Unresolved issues
  • Dealing with symptoms
  • Communication breakdowns
  • Miscommunication
  • Dishonesty and gossip
  • Poor performance
  • Blaming
  • Missed opportunities and successes

How does one have a courageous conversation? 

There are five steps to a courageous conversation. This requires awareness, training, repetition and ultimately becoming habit.

  1. Clarify the purpose (of the discussion/ meeting)
  2. Understand the other person first (Be curious. Listen well. Be present)
  3. Check that you have understood the other person – (feedback, objective, reflective)
  4. Share your perspective on the situation (confront, honestly, courageously, respect, its impact on those involved)
  5. Agree on a way forward (unlike a dialogue; think discussion, provoke learning, enrich relationships, end positive)

Organisations that encourage their people to challenge ideas, be open and confront issues respectfully will be far better off for doing so.