Difficult conversations – mistake #3

Having difficult conversations Mistake #3 Muddying your message

muddyingyourmessagePerhaps you’ve avoided procrastinating about holding a difficult conversation with a third sector colleague or direct report. (Congratulations!)

Maybe you’ve been crystal clear about the changes you’d like to see. (Well done, it’s not always easy)

But then, you blow your advantage by muddying your message with lots of talk, waffle and repetition, and your key point is lost. This mistake is common among my third sector clients when they need to have a difficult conversation.

Very often our best intentions are spoiled by simply too much talk. As if somehow this will make what we have to say easier to hear. Or even because we’re just plain nervous.

This is the time to remember the KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid.  This helps with the nerves and keeps the message clear and succint. Here you go:

  • Outline the specific problem as you see it
  • Explain how it makes you feel or how it affects others negatively. Give a short and clear example
  • Keep it neutral. Avoid very emotive language. The passive voice may be helpful here too eg “It was disappointing when…” rather than “I was disappointed…”
  • Express clearly what new behaviour you would like to see
  • Give the other person an opportunity to respond and listen without interruption. Acknowledge their points.
  • Get joint agreement on what will be different (if it’s a report invite them to say how they plan to do things differently)
  • Thank them for their time.


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.