Monday, 26 June 2017

Top 10 Strategies for Talking Tough

I have been working with a client this month for whom the focus is how to communicate some tough messages.  Let’s face it; no-one likes bad news, and frankly, there already seems too much of it going on in the world as it is.  Our natural tendency is often to want to avoid it, however, the reality for leaders everywhere is that sometimes communicating a tough message is what is required.  To be clear, a tough message is one where there may be high stakes, high emotion and/or a high degree of disagreement with the message.  So, I have been talking about my ‘top 10 strategies to talking tough':

  1. Be clear and concise. Don’t make it a lengthy message, because your team will become confused, distracted and disinterested. 
  2. Think ‘time and place’. What’s the best time of day to share the tough message? What’s the right place to do so?  And what’s the right medium to do it?  (Face to face, via email, phone calls etc.)  Thinking through all of these helps to minimize the impact of a tough message on the audience. It is extraordinary the amount of (dis)engagement that can be created without sufficient planning in this area.
  3. Acknowledge that you’ll never please everyone all of the time. Leadership isn’t simply a popularity business; it’s a respect business. So, there will be those who don’t immediately – or ever – agree. Consequently you should plan time on your calendar to follow up with these people first.
  4. Allow time to answer questions. Questions are always good to receive (because it shows that they are listening); so make sure there is time to take them.
  5. If you don’t know - say so – positively. Do not try to make up an answer when you don’t know it, because your audience will realise that you are bluffing. Equally, be positive and upbeat when you don’t know an answer to a question (as opposed to embarrassed or awkward).
  6. Plan to follow up with a further communication after the ’tough message’. We process information differently and feel/express emotion at different speeds and different ways. Consequently, stay close to your people by planning to communicate after the tough message has been shared.
  7. Keep it clean. By this we mean be clean with your language. There are some words/phrases that can create unnecessary anxiety, anger and frustration, so keep your language ‘clean’. For example: ‘with all due respect’ (which says you have no respect), ‘I agree with what you’re saying but’ (everything before ‘but’ is baloney) etc.
  8. Manage your body language. We are never not communicating and it’s largely ‘non verbal’. Keep your body language open and positive. Don’t fiddle or twitch!
  9. Listen. Most of us don’t listen to understand; we listen to speak. Avoid this trap at all costs because it’s the quickest way to raise the tension and emotion in the room and it conveys anxiety, fear and/or excessive control on your part.
  10. Get to positive action. We want people to be ‘doing’ something as a result of the tough message. Make sure you are clear, positive and upbeat on what this is. 

Leaders with Executive Presence make this look supremely easy, but, in fact, like everything else, it’s a learned skill.

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