Every day, millions of business professionals are purposely avoiding having hard conversations with employees and colleagues because it’s uncomfortable, awkward, and there is a fundamental lack of skills to engage in a hard business conversation that should have positive outcomes.
These absent conversations could be as simple as coordinating vacation calendars to make sure all customers are covered, or as complex as disagreeing on the strategic direction of a multi-billion-dollar company. Take a moment to think about the hard conversation that you didn’t have today because it was too difficult or the emotional energy was too great to spend.
Now think about the long-term business impact of not having that conversation…
There are many books on the topic of crucial, fierce, difficult, and challenging conversations and they all present great ideas and tools for talking with someone about something difficult. After many years of observing and talking with business professionals who have tried various approaches it has become apparent that there is a fundamental flaw deeply embedded in them all; they are disconnected from Business Acumen.
This blog presents new ideas, perspectives, and tools to go beyond just hard (unaligned) conversations to be able to engage in hard business conversations that leverage business acumen to achieve long-term success.
Before I present the four key tools of having hard business conversations it’s critical to point out that they won’t work without preparation and practice.
Five Key Questions of Preparation before the Four Tools of Hard Business Conversations
What’s my company’s business strategy?
The first and most critical question is determining and understanding your own company’s business strategy. That strategy sets the context. For example, if your company’s strategy is “Product Leadership,” then the hard conversations will be about achieving Product Leadership.
Why am I having this conversation?
The second question is determining the root cause of why you are having the conversation. Is it a performance issue? How is that performance related to the business strategy and financial metrics of your company?
What assumptions have you made?
We all make assumptions. What assumptions have you made about this situation and the person you are having the hard business conversation with? How are these assumptions related to the business?
What 3 things do you think are most uncomfortable about this?
It’s a hard conversation for a reason. Most hard conversations are very uncomfortable for a number of reasons and you need to determine what the top three reasons are driving your discomfort. Some of the most prominent reasons will be goal achievements conversations and behavior conversations that are misaligned to the business strategy and the business goals and objectives
What will success look like?
The final preparation point is visualizing what success will look like. Is it new behaviors? New Goals? New solutions for customers? Whatever they are, my suggestion is that are directly aligned to the strategy of the business.
Four Tools of Hard Business Conversations
Understand situation from the Strategic Business perspective
The first and most difficult thing to do in a hard business conversation is to take the emotion out of it by focusing on the situation from the business perspective. The hard conversation can’t be personal; it has to be based on business facts, data, and logic. You must start by controlling the conversation and asking the other person open ended questions that include business perspectives. For example; “Mike, we need to have a conversation about your performance. As you know, you haven’t achieved your goals and objectives and it’s impacting our revenues and profit. What are your thought s about what’s going on?”
Acknowledge that you have listened and understand
After the other person has shared the perspectives and you’ve kept the conversation aligned to the business perspectives and issues, you must acknowledge that you’ve listened and that you understand.
“Mike, thanks for sharing your perspectives. Let me summarize what I heard. You believe that you haven’t been able to meet your goals because the company has shifted strategies and has reduced investments in capacity which has resulted in fewer sales.”
Position your perspective and align to strategy
The next step is to position your perspective and make sure that the perspective is clear and aligned to the strategy.
“Mike, let me be clear about our strategy and our expectations. We have shifted our strategy to be more operationally efficient so that we can invest in more sales and marketing. It’s our expectation that you focus on customers that are willing to pay for value instead of customers who want lower quality and more volume. We will not be able to compete is a low quality, high volume market. In order to sell more value, you need to target different customers and develop your Strategic Business Selling skills.”
The final step is seeking a win-win solution that leverages the business perspectives and let’s all parties feel positive moving forward.
“Mike, I want us to move forward in a positive way. What are some of your thoughts on solutions? Great, I also have a few including providing you with new skills and more support from Sales Enablement to target more profitable accounts.”