Be Brave in Leadership: 5 Tips for Initiating Crucial Conversations

Be Brave in Leadership: 5 Tips for Initiating Crucial


              There are often times when leaders are tasked with having Crucial Conversations with members of their team. Crucial Conversations are those conversations that can be uncomfortable because they involve risky, emotional and critical topics. One definition of Crucial Conversations states it this way, “A crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where (1.) Stakes are high (2.) Opinions Vary, and (3.) Emotions run strong. The outcome greatly impacts the lives of those involved.”

                Crucial Conversations should not be avoided and should be addressed with planning and clear intention. Mastering the art of initiating a Crucial Conversation is a key Leadership Skill. Here are 5 tips to help initiate a Critical Conversation:

1.) Create a safe environment –  Crucial Conversations are best when not had in public. I learned a long time ago to “Praise in public and reprimand in private”. Most people, when feeling like they are being criticized, become defensive. This can intensify if done in front of others. Instead of focusing on the subject at hand, the person on the receiving end of the information may begin to focus more on defending themselves and their dignity than on being fully engaged in the conversation.

2.) Be prepared for a number of responses from the other person(s) in the conversation – When planning to have these types of conversations, we often play them out in our heads the way we expect the other person(s) to respond. Well, what happens when that other person gives an alternative response? How will you redirect the conversation? Remember that the person you are having the conversation with may be either (1.) fully receptive, (2.) genuinely confused and caught off guard about why they are being approached in regards to the situation, or (3.) may become defensive. Be prepared for your response to various scenarios.

3.)  Approach your Crucial Conversations using the Sandwich Method – Imagine you have a fabulous cheeseburger with all the fixings in front of you. The major components of the sandwich are the bun, top and bottom, and the beef patty. Crucial Conversations are best structured with offering some sort of positive reinforcement about what the team member has done well (top bun), followed by the sensitive issue that needs to be discussed (beef patty), then followed up again by positive reinforcement (bottom bun). Essentially, you are ‘sandwiching’ the hard part of the discussion in between some positivity.

4) Remember that mutual respect is important for the accurate transference of information – Most adults don’t like to feel “talked down to” by anyone, including their boss/team member, etc. As the Leader, you must remember that the “fight or flight instinct”  kicks in when people feel threatened. These Crucial Conversations can easily go left if a mutual respect is not had by both parties. I did not say both parties had to “like” each other, but mutual respect is important here.

5.) Stay in control of the conversation – Stay on task with the conversation at hand. Keep emotions in check. Deal in the facts and not conjecture and remember the initial goal of the conversation.

How will you handle your next Crucial Conversation at work/community organization, etc?

– Dr. April

Life coach, nashville life coach

Dr. Carmen April's Speaker Series

Dr. Carmen April’s Speaker Series

This post is part of a series on Leadership presented by Dr. Carmen April. She is a young entrepreneur and community leader recognized as a 2013 Nashville Business Journal Top 40 Under Forty Award Recipient and is currently a 2014 New Leaders Council Fellow – Nashville Chapter.  Dr. April is available for speaking engagements on Entrepreneurship for college students and young professionals.


One thought on “Be Brave in Leadership: 5 Tips for Initiating Crucial Conversations

  1. Pingback: Leadership the Starbucks Way: The 5 Ways of Being | Dr. carmen april

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