Practical Tips for Leaders to Start Hard Conversations

I really appreciate—and have totally used—Brené Brown’s tools. You can find downloadables on her website.

Brené Brown recommends the following phrases to push vulnerable and trusting conversations forward:

  • “The story I make up…”

Often, we have an experience and don’t know the whole story. Then, our imagination fills in a story. For example, Jack might come home with a headache and a sore throat but doesn’t want to trouble Beth his wife with that information. Because Jack is less talkative than usual, and Beth forgot to take out the garbage that morning, Beth might make up a story like this: “Jack is mad at me for not taking out the garbage.”

  • “I’m curious about…”
  • “Tell me more.”
  • “That’s not my experience.” (Use as an alternative to “You don’t understand” or “You’ve got it wrong.”)
  • “I’m wondering…”
  • “Help me understand…”
  • “Walk me through…”
  • “We’re both dug in. Tell me about your passion around this.”
  • “Tell me why this doesn’t work (or fit) for you.”
  • “I’m working from these assumptions—what about you?”
  • “What problem are we trying to solve?”

Others phrases I also like:

  • “Feels like I’m missing something. What am I missing?”
  • “Please go on.”
  • “What are you afraid we’ll lose?”
  • “Is there something we’re not talking about that we should?”

Here’s something else you could try.

First, take the question in your mind—which might be hostile and/or worked up. Then, ask it out loud in a clear, kind, calm, curious way.

For example, if you’re thinking A, respond with B:

A – “What on Earth is she thinking??!!” (What you’re thinking.)

B – “So, Sara – what are you thinking?” (What you actually say.)

A – “How in the heck are we ever going to do this??!?” (What you’re thinking.)

B – “How do you see this happening?” (What you actually say.)

A – “Don’t they realize we’ve been down this road before and it never works??!!?!” (What you’re thinking.)

B – “What do you think might make this time different than the time we tried it a couple years ago?” (What you actually say.)

Sometimes a question of curiosity can make a big difference.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

This is the seventh and final post in a short series featuring the work of Brene Brown. Specifically, her book Dare to Lead. Read the introduction post to this series here.
Post #1: Leaders Know the Myths of Vulnerability
Post #2: Leaders Understand the Pitfalls of Perfectionism and Fear of Failure
Post #3: Leaders, Beware of Numbing Behaviors
Post #4: Leaders are Clear and Kind
Post #5: Leaders Avoid Rewarding the Exhaustion of Productivity
Post #6: Leaders Know the Difference Between Shame and Guilt

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