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Courageous Conversations

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"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be."

An important way to inspire your team is to give and receive feedback. Many hear the word ‘feedback’ and automatically think about criticism and negative feelings. Giving and receiving feedback is often referred to as difficult or uncomfortable. The truth is, giving feedback means you care. Think about a time you had a wardrobe malfunction, or food stuck in your teeth, did a colleague or friend let you know? They did so because they care about you, and most likely you were grateful for the information. Providing team members with feedback helps them grow and improve, it is not meant to embarrass, belittle, or put-down. Having courageous conversations will set those around you up for success. The goal is to help the person receiving the feedback grow. Being mindful of your attitude and approach sets the tone for a positive productive conversation.


Being willing to courageously and tactfully address unwanted actions and behaviors on your team increases your organizations’ ability to reach its goals and provide excellent customer service. Like a report card, evaluations can show us how well we are doing, however they don’t show the necessary coaching that goes on between evaluations that will contribute to success. Have you received feedback in the past that left you feeling unmotivated and thinking, “Why should I even bother?” It most likely wasn’t the topic of the feedback itself that left you feeling that way, but the way the feedback was delivered. Offering feedback the right way can make a difference between having an employee who is motivated and contributes more and an employee who feels diminished. If we allow unwanted actions and behaviors to continue without offering helpful conversations, the rest of the team will become focused on why those unwanted behaviors aren’t being addressed and the organization will suffer from a loss of employee engagement. Customers often see the results from lack of constructive feedback in the form of poor customer service. What we permit we promote, if providing feedback is avoided, messages are sent to everyone that those actions are permitted.


Generally, actions or behaviors that don’t fit the norms or the desired culture for your organization. If your organization has a ‘Standards of Behavior’ or ‘Code of Conduct’ document these are great tools to inform and guide acceptable behavior. Here are some examples of behaviors that may prompt a courageous conversation:

  • Abrupt or disrespectful behavior or language
  • Passive or passive-aggressive actions or language
  • Complaining and/or gossiping
  • Talking “about” rather than “to” each other
  • Incongruent words and actions
  • Failure to comply with a policy, regulation, or Standard of Behavior such as; not wearing a name tag, tardiness, failure to document information, etc.
  • Actions or behavior that isn’t aligned to the organization’s goals and values
  • Low evaluation scores and under-performing results


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.

Be specific

When providing feedback to colleagues and employees, focus on behaviors. As you and your conversation partner discuss an observed event or action, describe specifically what the individual did and the impact that it had. Use action verbs and narrate the sequence as you observed it; then describe what happened as a result. Often, we remember what we “think” we did, or intended to do, but we’re not self-aware enough to know what we actually did.

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