Modifying Your Approach to Tough Conversations

Member Outreach,

Modifying Your Approach to Tough Conversations

March 14, 2019 | Donna August

What’s the No. 1 strategy for difficult conversations? Avoid the need for them in the first place. That was the opening advice of author and keynote speaker David Dye during his session, “Leading the Art of the Tough Conversation” at the IREM Tri-State Conference and Expo last month in Atlantic City, New Jersey. With an attentive, early-morning audience of real estate managers eager for tips on how to navigate confrontation, Dye explained that confrontation can be avoided in the first place—if we take the time and care to build a certain type of organizational culture.

Dye suggested that companies clearly communicate the organization’s “most important things,” making sure each employee has a shared understanding of what those things are and how they relate to each person’s role. It’s all about setting expectations, building an achievement-focused organization and checking for continued understanding along the way, he said. In a culture like this, meaningful conversations are happening all the time, rather than waiting until a problem occurs that needs to be addressed.

But what happens if we’re not there yet? What if we’re still building the culture and learning the skills needed to do so? This is where Dye shared some practical advice from his book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul.His I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method of delivering tough feedback is something all of us can use—at work and in our personal lives—to help plan for those dreaded moments of tough conversations.

Before breaking down the method, Dye shared a quip that the audience agreed was easy to remember in the heat of the moment. When you realize you need to have a difficult conversation, “don’t get mad, get sad.” It can be an instinctive reaction to get mad when an employee does something wrong or damaging. But heading into that situation in anger won’t help you get to a positive outcome. Instead, reach for a different feeling, one that is rooted in empathy and caring.

The I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method follows these steps:

  • Initiate—carve out space for the moment, and never blindside the other person with a spontaneous confrontation.
  • Notice—only talk about what you can observe about what the other person has done. You can’t observe a bad attitude or laziness, for example, but you can observe specific behaviors and facts.
  • Support—share very specific evidence of the behavior to support your stance rather than speaking in generalities.
  • Probe—draw them into the conversation with questions, then be quiet and “let the crickets chirp” so they can answer without feeling defensive.
  • Invite—ask them to come up with solutions to the problem.
  • Review—before leaving the conversation, check for understanding and reiterate the solution.

Building good communication skills is an ongoing effort for most of us, and the advice Dye shared with the Tri-State property managers from IREM is truly universal. His overarching message was that we don’t have to make a choice between results or relationships. If we “live in the ‘and’” we can be successful with both.

About the Author
Donna August is vice president of marketing and business development at IREM Headquarters in Chicago.