Difficult ConversationsDo you have trouble giving difficult messages to people? Like telling people they need to work harder, or come in on time, or even shower more often?

These tough conversations are actually a lot easier than you think – with the help of a little behavioral science. Allow me to explain.

Nearly a decade ago, I did a year-long consulting project with a major West Coast human services organization, the goal of which was to help everyone communicate better. Our strategy was to combine communications skills with newer techniques from the growing field of strength-based psychology, to come up with training and performance rubrics that would actually move the needle on successfully having difficult conversations at work.

This organization’s vision statement included a statement that its employees could talk to anyone about anything – and in the end, our successful project truly taught everyone HOW to tell anyone anything. And, in turn, this eventually became the title of my best selling book to date.

So here is a summary of the core strategy behind How to Tell Anyone Anything, using a handy six-step acronym I call the CANDID approach:

  • Compartmentalize your message into its safe and unsafe parts. Then always start in a safe place that gets the other person in dialogue. So, for example, instead of saying “You aren’t working hard enough,” start with “Tell me about how you do this job.”
  • Ask good questions. Take a learning posture towards the other person by exploring their side of the story. So if an employee just yelled at a customer, say, “That sounded really frustrating for you! What did that customer say to you?”
  • Normalize the situation. This is the part that strength-based communications lives or dies on – and why most people don’t do it. Here you never ever shame the other person. Not only that, you paint their position as that of a totally reasonable person. Why? Because it not only opens dialogue and problem solving, it also disarms their excuses. So if someone is late all the time, suck in a deep breath and totally get why they say they are late. You’ll see why this is important in the next step.
  • Discuss the situation. Now it’s your turn. And you will win at this if you are neutral, factual, and ask the other person to solve the problem with you. Take this example of someone being late: when you say, “Here’s the situation George – most people here come in late once or twice a month. You come in late three times a week, and it is hurting morale. Where can we go with this?” Now he has to problem solve with you, because you have already “gotten” all of his excuses.
  • Incentivize the solution. When someone sees a benefit for changing, it makes change much more likely versus simple fear of punishment. “George, if you could get a handle on coming in on time, you could have tremendous leadership potential in this organization.”
  • Disengage from the discussion. Closing on a positive note reaffirms a good working relationship and makes change much more likely.

The CANDID approach has been game-changing for both my own management career and the organizations I have consulted for – and it will change your small business as well.

People will stop fighting with you, listen to you, and make positive changes at work. All for the price of getting out a piece of paper, writing C-A-N-D-I-D down the side of it, and scripting some of your most challenging conversations first before you have them.

Try it yourself, and see how much more successful your interactions with people are.