Difficult conversations – mistake #2

Having difficult conversations Mistake #2. Not being clear about what behaviour you want to see exactly

Phew! Thank goodness that’s over. You’ve had the difficult conversation you were dreading. You think the meeting went quite well and your report seemed to take on board what you’d said. You’re hopeful things will start to change for the better.

And then nothing happens. You wait for things to be different. You wait to see the improvement you thought you’d asked for.

But still nothing happens.  Business concept of action, delayed

Why not, you wonder? What went wrong?

When I hear this kind of scenario in my sessions with third sector managers and leaders, off go the alarm bells.  How clear was my client, I wonder, about what exactly needed to be different?

My suggestion to them is to have a very clear positive goal for the conversation that incorporates the specific behaviours they want to see. We work on exactly what that goal might be, something like:

‘I want Charlie to be on time for meetings, wait for people to finish speaking before he does, listen attentively to others and keep his voice calm.”

See how much more likely this is to get results than “I want Charlie to stop throwing his weight around in meetings”? Charlie will have gone away from that conversation with his tail between his legs, possibly, but with no clear idea of what’s expected of him.  I wonder too, how his self-esteem is doing after what I imagine was a bit of a haranguing.

When you are really clear about the changes you want to see, you are much more likely to get them.

Once you are both clear on what success will look like, make sure you have complete agreement about what’s going to happen next. “So, in the meeting on 5 November, can I expect you to..?” Yes!

In my next blog I look at how to get your message across simply so you both end the conversation empowered and positive.


Katie Duckworth supports third sector organisations to improve management and leadership skills, including holding difficult conversations. Call me on 0208 772 7808 or contact me here for a no-obligation chat about how I can help you or your teams.