June 26, 2017
How to Tackle a Tough Conversation by Breaking it Down

After I spoke recently at the SHRM 2017 annual conference, a participant asked me for advice about how to have a tough conversation with her boss. Basically, she was concerned that her boss was sharing confidential information with her and other staff people. She found this to be a breach of confidentiality and "unprofessional." She wondered how she could give her boss that feedback.

"Realize that you may need to have 
several conversations 
about a difficult topic..."

Hearing someone label anyone "unprofessional", "racist", "sexist" or any other broad label like that is always a red flag for me. No one likes to be labeled and pressing that label on your boss is bound to backfire. Tackling something like a breach of confidentiality - by an HR pro no less - requires breaking it down into much smaller and more behavioral steps.
What Should You Do?  
  • First, realize that you may need to have several conversations about a difficult topic, especially one where you're criticizing a superior.
  • Second, ask open-ended questions. If someone gives you information that you're not sure you should have, ask, in a diplomatic way:  "I'm not sure what the reason is for giving me this information. Could you please help me sort out my confusion and clarify what you would like me to do with this?" 
  • Third, remember to be behaviorally specific. Avoid broad labels and complaints but instead request a small piece of what you want the person to say or do. In this situation perhaps: "When you tell me about ____, could you also let me know if there's something you're expecting from me based on this information?" 
  • Fourth, offer understanding or appreciation before and after the request. For example: "I appreciate that you trust me enough to share things."

Did You Know

Life is full of tough conversations. All of our management workshops, as well as our conflict management workshops for employees, help navigate tough conversations with skill and finesse.

For more information, call or write us at: 303-216-1020 or [email protected]

Be sure to read Lynne's books "We Need to Talk -- Tough Conversations with Your Boss" 
and "We Need to Talk -- Tough Conversations with Your Employee" 


Workplaces That Work | (303) 216-1020 | [email protected] 
3985 Wonderland Hill Suite 106 Boulder, CO 80304
Image Map
Workplaces That Work, 3985 Wonderland Hill, Suite 106, Boulder, CO 80304
Sent by [email protected] in collaboration with
Constant Contact