It can sometimes feel like we can’t communicate what we want without ruffling feathers.

I’d imagine the last time you had a difficult conversation with someone was probably not one of your favorite life moments. You probably dreaded it for weeks (maybe even months) before scheduling the conversation. Once you’ve finally scheduled it, things got in the way and the meeting kept getting pushed back. The longer you wait, the higher your anxiety level. By the time the conversation actually happens, you’re frustrated! You just want to get it over with.

If you had asked someone what you could’ve done differently, the obvious answer might be to not wait that long to have a tough conversation. But in reality, it’s not that simple.

If you’re being honest with yourself, you probably didn’t have enough trust with the other person to feel confident about the conversation. And there is probably so much you fear would happen from it.

In order to step into these conversations confidently, the focus should not only be to address the issue at hand, but also to build trust. Coming up with a system to prepare for these conversations will make them easier and easier over time.

In this post, I cover a few important elements to focus on to help you build trust over time.

Preparing for a Difficult Conversation While Building Trust

Resolving conflicts, miscommunications and the journey of navigating different work styles are all a part of your job as a leader. So overcoming the fear of difficult conversations is crucial.

Focusing on how to build trust with these conversations will help set a positive tone.

Below are some elements to focus on with a list questions that I’ve found helpful to think through. These questions help you build rapport, give you a clear vision of team success, be more succinct, engage the other person, manage emotions, and reflect on learnings, as well as commit to new actions. This will help you step into the conversations in a more confident and also empathetic way.

1. Build rapport

    • How can you set a positive tone for the conversation?

2. Communicate your vision for team success.

    • How do you define team success?
    • Why is having this conversation important to you?
    • Why are you having this conversation?

3. Be succinct with what you’re addressing.

    • What do you need to address in this conversation?
    • How can you communicate this without pointing fingers?

4. Tie this back to team success and why it matters.

    • How does resolving the issue help you win as a team?
    • How does this conversation benefit the other person and the team? (i.e. why should they listen to you?)

5. Engage.

    • What do they care most about?
    • How can you create space for them to tell you their perspective?
    • What questions can you ask to find out more?

6. Actively listen and manage emotions.

    • What active listening strategies can you implement throughout the conversation?
    • How can you manage your emotions if there is resistance?

(Checkin out my old post on what being a great listener means!)

7. Reflect on learnings.

    • How can you communicate what you’ve learned from the conversation?
    • What did the other person take away from the conversation?

8. Commit to new actions together.

    • What actions can each of you take going forward to resolve the situation?
    • How can you commit to checking in with each other regularly?

Communicating Confidently and Empathetically

When working within teams, it is important that you focus on building trust when communicating what you want. As a leader, having a clear vision of team success, communicating it succinctly and being open to others’ points of view is crucial.

What are some things you focus on to help you successfully navigate difficult conversations?

If you are having trouble getting clarity on your leadership style and the vision you have for team success, check out my free guide on “3 Exercises to Lead with More Engagement.”