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Courageous Conversations: Dos and Don’ts

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Initiating conversations that provide team members with feedback can seem like an intimidating task. The following tips will help put the organization and mission first, while keeping your relationship with your team members in tact:
  • Praise in public. Criticize in private.
  • Never send an email or text in place of having a conversation.  
  • Avoid using the word ‘but’ because of its negative connotation.  
  • Ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone talked to me this way? Would I be motivated to work towards a solution, or would I feel the need to defend myself?”  
  • Use “mandatory” if you want behavior to change. If the senior leader says a behavior is “expected,” only about 26% of leaders feel they must comply. If the senior leader elevates the word to “required,” a full 69% of leaders feel they must comply. It isn’t until the word “mandatory” is used that almost all leaders, a full 98%, feel they must comply.  
  • Avoid the tendency to downplay or enable the behavior.
  • Always document the conversation.


  • I value you as a colleague.
  • I wanted you to know this because I value you.
  • You’re a great coworker and I like working with you.
  • I’m concerned. I know this is a stressful time for you.
  • Ask: “Is there anything wrong that you’d like to talk about?.”

References: Cunningham, Lynn. (2015). Taking Conversations from Difficult to Doable: Three Models to Master Tough Conversations. Pensacola: Fire Starter Publishing.

Keane, Beth. (2011). Spinach in Your Teeth Messages: the Art of Giving (and Receiving) Honest Feedback.

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