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Tough Conversations Toolkit


Whilst we cannot suggest that you will ever find tough conversations easy to have,
developing a range of interpersonal skills will enable you to have more choices
about how you manage them and give you a much better chance of success.

To start with there are in fact 7 simple behaviours that you need to master. Once you have
perfected them they can be applied in different ways and combinations to form the
Interpersonal Skills that you will need to use.

These behaviours are:

Stating Facts: Providing straightforward information, e.g. The working day starts at 8.30

Stating Opinions: Providing a personal view, e.g. The new working hours will be a
benefit to the team

Stating Feelings: Saying how you feel about something, e.g. I am frustrated with your
progress on this project

Questioning: A phrase that solicits information e.g. What do you find difficult about your

Reflecting Data: Playing back information and facts, e.g. You said that you find your
colleagues difficult to work with

Reflecting Feelings: Playing back the feelings that are behind what is being said, e.g.
You seem to be really angry about the situation

Summarising: An account of what has been covered so far, e.g. So far we have talked
about the job, what you enjoy doing and some of the issues regarding your style

In order to use these behaviours well there are some aspects of that it is important to

The first 3 behaviours come from your own frame of reference and state things from
your own perspective
The second three are about the other person and show that you understand their
Summarising is a way of bringing both perspectives together
In order to demonstrate the last four behaviours effectively you need to have a well
developed ability to listen actively to what the other person is saying and these
behaviours are some of the outward indicators that you are listening well

Be open about your objective

Establish other persons objectives
Seek and agree common ground
State your case clearly and unemotionally
Tell them how you feel and check/Respond to their feelings
Listen and show you understand the others point of view
Produce ideas to resolve differences
Develop and build on others ideas
Summarise and check for mutual understanding


1. BASIC Straightforward I need to be away by 5.00pm.

statement stating, Id like us to discuss that issue
needs, wants, beliefs and today
feelings. we need to work in a different way
2. EMPATHETIC An element of empathy I appreciate that you don't like the
and a statement of needs procedure. However, until it is
changed, Id like you to keep on
with it.
3. DISCREPANCY Pointing out the In our meeting last week you said
difference between youd get the report to me this
something previously morning, it is now 2pm and I havent
agreed and what received it yet, what is the
happened. situation.
4.NEGATIVE FEELINGS Draws attention to the When you let me have the figures
(Managing anger - say how undesirable effect of at this late stage, I feel annoyed
you feel rather than show your someones behaviour on because it involves me in working at
anger indirectly.) you. the weekend. I would like you/need
When ... (no blame) you to give them to me on a Friday
I feel - or the effects morning, so that I can get them
are processed by the end of the day.
Id like/I need
5. RESPONSIVE Investigate where other Id like to hear your views.
(Assist others in speaking up.) person is. What problems does that create
for you?

6. CONSEQUENCE Informs others of the If this occurs again Im left with no

consequences of not alternative but to apply the
changing and gives them disciplinary procedure. Id prefer not
the opportunity to do so. to

The Blind
This individual typically cant see the point you are making; they have a tendency to
deny that they behave in the way that you describe and struggle to accept your
observations. This individual is rarely trying to deliberately resist you, but tends to
lack the self-awareness and insight to understand the impact of their behaviour.
Overcoming The Blind
There is a danger that the debate will continue relentlessly, with them failing to accept your
observations. The key to making progress lies with them being able to see their own
behaviour. In an ideal world, video or audio feedback can achieve this, however often
obtaining feedback from a wide range of individuals can enable them to become more requisite
and challenging of themselves and this can also be complemented by providing feedback in
the moment i.e. as and when it happens, rather than saving it for a formal meeting.

The Counter Puncher

This individual tends to hold an entirely different perspective of him/herself and to this
end there are parallels with The Blind; however they then counter punch by providing
counter evidence to undermine your observations. Typically they might say my team have
never made these comments, in fact only yesterday Joe complemented me on the way I
manage him.
Overcoming The Counter Puncher
These discussions could become a battle of wills, depending upon who can produce the most
convincing argument. He/she will no doubt always produce counter evidence and thus it is
important not to become drawn into the debate. The key issue is that if you have observed
their behaviour and experienced it at first hand and this should be the focus of the discussion,
then others comments and observations need to be put to override. This is not a matter of
you being right and them being wrong, but more that your observations and data could further
enhance their effectiveness.

The Idealess
This individual can be particularly draining. They agree with your observations and
are often disappointed that this is the situation, but unfortunately they never seem to
know what to do. They tend to constantly put the onus back onto you to generate
ideas and once you do, its never quite going to work for them.
Overcoming The Idealess
Although they appear to accept the situation, they fail to take responsibility and place the
pressure back on you. It may be that they do lack ideas and you can help, however if this
becomes a cycle of them expecting you to create ideas and for them to pick holes in them,
then we would suggest that the onus and responsibility is returned to them.
Rather than trying to solve the issue, there and then, encourage the individual to go away and
come back to you with a couple of potential ideas. Encourage them to talk to others but stress
that the next conversation must focus on them selecting from their ideas. In many situations,
individuals do have a solution or a vague idea but its easier for others to take responsibility.

The Agreeable
This individual agrees with your observations and makes the conversation very easy to
handle regardless of how contentious the issues are, however although they agree with
you, very little changes. When this is raised with them, there is often a reason or
perhaps an excuse as to why they didnt follow through on their commitment.
Overcoming The Agreeable
The major challenge with this individual is identifying whats stopping them acting on their
commitments. Were they not really convinced in the first place? Do they lack confidence? Or
was it easier to readily agree rather than debating the issue? No further commitments should
be made until they are honest with both you and themselves as to what is stopping them.

The Minimiser
This individual tends to talk the issue down; whatever is raised they tend to smooth
over the point, often acknowledging it as an issue but not treating it very seriously.
They are often heard saying Overall its not important or It is something to think
about, but I prefer to focus on my strengths its a better use of my time.
Overcoming The Minimiser
Acknowledge their point, however draw them back to the issue at hand and emphasise the
impact of not addressing it. If they continue to minimise, draw their attention to this defensive
behaviour and become more forceful in focusing them on the issue.

Top Tip:-
Use Open Questions, to gain a better understanding of behaviour