Please enjoy this transcript of the lesson “How to Have Hard Conversations.” It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos. For ways to connect with Doug, the notes, and for links to everything discussed, check out our show notes.
Doug Smith: 00:00 If you want to be successful in your career and leadership and your marriage and your family and in your relationships, then you must learn how to have hard conversations. This is the l three leadership podcast, episode number 204.
Doug Smith: 00:25 Welcome everyone and welcome to another episode of the L3 Leadership podcast. My name is Doug Smith and I am your host and today’s episode, you’ll hear me teach on the subject how to have hard conversations. I believe having hard conversations is a skill set that everybody needs to develop. And in the lesson, you’ll hear me share my journey of learning how to have hard conversations…and it was a long one. You’ll hear me share some ground rules that I believe everyone needs to agree on before having hard conversations. And then I’ll actually walk you through the steps that I use to have hard conversations and I really believe this is going to add a ton of value to you as a leader. Uh, but before we dive into the lesson, just a quick announcement. If you are in ministry, you’re a church leader or you’re a church member, then I want to let you know about a conference that you will not want to miss.
Doug Smith: 01:08 My friends at Amplify church and their leader Lee Kricher are hosting their annual future forward conference here in Pittsburgh on October second and third, 2018 this year. They’re going to be having Carey Nieuwhof as the keynote speaker and if you don’t know Carey, you need to. I had the honor and privilege of interviewing him in episode number 34 of the podcast and I encourage you to go back and listen to that and I’m so excited that he’s coming to town and listen again. You need to get you yourself and your team here at this conference to learn more about the conference and to register, go to future forward churches.com. With that being said, enjoy the lesson and I’ll be back at the end with a few announcements. Hey everyone. Today I’d like to talk to you on the subject of how to have hard conversations. This is a subject that is near and dear to me because this has been a huge area of growth in my life.
Doug Smith: 01:56 I can’t tell you how bad I was at having hard conversations early on and how much it costs me in my leadership journey and in my life and here’s what I’ve come to learn about. Hard conversations that if you want to be successful in your career and leadership and your marriage and your family and in your relationships, then you must learn how to have hard conversations. Absolutely must. However, through my experience with people, I found that very few people were equipped to have hard conversations in a healthy way, and so that’s why I’m doing this lesson. I want to share with you what I’ve learned about having hard conversations and my hope is that it’ll help some of you become aware of your need to have hard conversations and then it will also equip you to actually start having them. And if you’ve been good at having hard conversations but haven’t done them in a healthy way.
Doug Smith: 02:39 I hope to bring some health to the hard conversations that you need to have in your life. So with that being said, let me just briefly walk you through my journey to having hard conversations and let me just inform you that this was over a 10 year process and a 10 year journey, uh, because I’m slow, a lot of you guys will get this a lot faster than I will and I hope that you’ll be able to make my 10 years, uh, your 10 minute journey, so to speak. And so let me walk you through my journey. The first step in my journey was that I did not recognize the need to have hard conversations and therefore I never had them. And instead of handling them, I’ve complained and gossip nonstop about an issue or a person. Some of the reasons for this or I never saw conflict handled in a healthy way.
Doug Smith: 03:18 So I always viewed it as negative. Uh, secondly, I had a fear of conflict with those in authority because I always saw myself as a child and not an adult. And just a side note on that, if you’re looking for a great resource on that, if you feel like you’re always a child and everyone else’s an adult, I highly encourage you to reach changes that heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. There’s a whole section called growing into adulthood and it is absolutely phenomenal and I’ve had to learn to see myself as an adult. And so that was a big reason that I, I didn’t have them as I never saw myself as an adult. And then I also loved gossiping. I don’t know about you, but it feels good to persuade others of my negative opinions of someone or something. I actually loved gossiping and you have to be careful because gossip can be really, really addicting.
Doug Smith: 04:00 And so this was, this was the beginning of my journey. I didn’t even recognize the need to have hard conversations and so I didn’t have them. Step two in my journey is I recognize the need to have hard conversations. However, I still lack the courage and skill set to have them. And so I continued to just gossip about the issues and the people that were, uh, were issues in my life. And so how did I become aware of two main things really in Matthew 18, and again, I’m a person of faith and Matthew Chapter Eighteen, Jesus actually sets up a process of having hard conversations. And just to summarize, summarize it, he said, listen, if you have an issue with someone, go to that person and have a hard conversation and if you guys are unable to resolve the issue, then bring the third party in. And then there’s a whole nother step.
Doug Smith: 04:43 But I won’t go into that today. But again, Matthew 18, it’s the biblical model for hard conversations is go to the person if you can’t resolve it, bring someone else in. And then the second thing was Dave Ramsey. I’m a huge Dave Ramsey fan and his organization has a thing that they call the no gossip rule. And so literally, if you gospel more than once in their organization, if you gossip twice and get caught, you are fired or no questions asked. They do not tolerate gossip. And if that were the case at this point in my journey of having hard conversations, I would have been fired immediately from Dave Ramsey because all I did was gossip. I never actually confronted issues in my life, so I recognize the need to have them at this point. But I lacked the courage and skill set to have them. And so I just continued to gossip.
Doug Smith: 05:25 The third step in my journey and this was the life-altering one for me, is I was forced to have a hard conversation. I was forced, I’ll tell you that story in a second. And so as a result of having a hard conversation, I recognize that it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I determined to have them from now on in my life. And so this story real briefly, I was, I was complaining about an authority figure in my life a lot and there was a guy that was coaching me and I started complaining to them about this person and he said, well, when are you going to have a conversation with that? And I said I don’t know. He’s like, well, you need to put a date on it. I said, well, maybe sometime this week. And he’s like, why don’t you call this person right now and schedule a time to have this conversation?
Doug Smith: 06:08 And literally like, my heart sunk into my stomach. I said right now. And he said, yeah, right now. I’m like, but we’re in your office. He goes, I know. And he said, pick up your phone right now. Call this person and say I want to schedule a time to have a conversation with you. And I’m like, right now, right now. And he’s like, yes, right now. And uh, he made me call this person and I was, oh, I was just miserable. I called the person, I set up a meeting with her and ended up having a hard conversation and at the end of the day it was tough at first, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. And because it went so well, I determined from now on that I was going to learn how to have hard conversations no matter what and handle them in a healthy way.
Doug Smith: 06:46 And so that leads to the fourth step of my journey, which is I learned how to have hard conversations, which I’ll be sharing about today. I grew in my ability to have them and as a result, I stopped gossiping and I stopped allowing gossip to come to me, which was absolutely huge. And then the fifth step in my journey, which is where I am today, is I try to model this in my personal life and on our organization. I try to model the ability to have hard conversations. I try to train others how to have hard conversations in a healthy way because it’s been so beneficial for me. So that’s been my journey. Again, that was over a 10 year period and I don’t know where you are. Maybe you find yourself, you found, you find yourself right now somewhere where I was along the way.
Doug Smith: 07:26 And again, I just want to share some things that’ll help you expedite your growth in this area throughout the less of the rest of the lesson. And so I’m going to start, before I walk you through the steps of having a hard conversation, I just want to lay some ground rules for having hard conversations and again, these are ground rules or values that I’ve developed over the past 10 years that I believe are absolutely essential to have laid as a foundation if you’re going to have hard conversations, either one on one or as a team. And so as you’re listening to these, these are things that I share with our team when we’re about to have a hard conversation. These are also things that I will share one on one with someone I’m going to have a hard conversation with because I want the foundation and the groundwork to be laid so we can actually have a healthy conversation.
Doug Smith: 08:10 So here’s the ground rules that I have. One I already shared, it’s Matthew 18, 15 through 17. So when I talked to our team, I say, listen, we follow the Matthew 18 biblical model. We go to the person and actually address issues. We don’t gossip and complain about them and if we can’t resolve this issue within, we bring in a third party to help us deal with that and rarely will have to go beyond that interrelationship. So we buy into that model. We have hard conversations. We go to people. We don’t go behind their backs. The second ground rule that I always say is, listen, we have honest, hard and awkward conversations all the time. We have honest, hard and awkward conversations all the time. If this becomes normal for your organization, you’re much more likely to have a lot healthier, a conflict, a lot healthier, hard conversations in your organization because people just expect it.
Doug Smith: 09:00 So listen, we will always have honest, hard, and awkward conversations. Number three is we don’t let things linger. We leave it out all out on the table. We don’t let things linger. We leave it all out on the table. I believe this is your job, my friend Ben Wrath always told me that if you are getting paid by an organization, then it’s your job to speak up and have hard conversations that will make the organization and make the other-other people around you better. It is your job, so listen, we don’t let things linger. We leave it all on the table and a great quote that I use for this, I love what Colin Powell said. He said this, and this just lays the groundwork. He said, when we’re debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion. Whether you think I’ll like it or not, disagreement at this stage stimulates me, but once a decision has been made, the debate ends.
Doug Smith: 09:47 From that point on. Loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own. I love that. What was calling? Trying to say. He said, listen, your job when we’re discussing an issue is delay it all on the table. Not after a decision has been made, right? That that’s not the time, but listen right now, right here, we’re gonna. We’re gonna. Lay everything out. We’re going to make a decision and move forward and that’s what you need to agree to as a team. We’re going to leave it all out on the table and we’re not going to go behind each other’s back after a decision has been made after this issue has been resolved. The next ground rule is that we just believe the best about each other. We always give each other the benefit of the doubt. The next one is we know that everyone communicates differently and we respond accordingly.
Doug Smith: 10:29 This is why personality assessments are so central and one that I’m really enjoying right now is the predictive index. I’d encourage you to check out that a lot of people use the disc profile, um, but once you become aware of how other people communicate, it changes the game on how you can have hard conversations. So listen, some people were very direct and those people need to learn actually how to listen and allow other people to take time to process because they process very quickly and they don’t always listen. They just speak. But other people were processors and them, they just need time to process before they speak. And so once you start to learn different personalities and how they communicate, you can respect each other and have a much healthier conversation. To learn and know that everyone communicates differently and we will respond and hard conversations accordingly.
Doug Smith: 11:16 The next ground rule is we do not gossip about others in the organization. We have direct conversations and direct others to do the same. It’s basically the Dave Ramsey rule. We do not gossip. The next ground rule I always laid down as this is, we all have the same goals and the same mission. Listen, we’re all in the same team here, which is my next one. We’re all one team. We all love each other. And then lastly and again, that we’re the organization I work in as a faith-based organization. Uh, but I, I’m a person of faith as well. I just say that we all love God and are growing in our walk with him. Listen, nobody’s perfect. Nobody has arrived. We’re all trying to grow. And so, uh, so let’s allow room for growth in each other’s lives as we walk in our journey with God, and those are the ground rules that I lay and I feel like that gets everyone on the same page and on the same foundation to have hard conversations.
Doug Smith: 12:07 And listen, if you’re the leader, then you need to model this on a daily basis. You know, do you go directly to people instead of gossiping about them? Do you leave it all on the table? Do you believe the best about each other? Do you know that everyone on your team communicates differently and respond accordingly? Not just know that, but actually, do something with that information. Do you model this? Because here’s what I know. If you don’t model this on a daily basis if you don’t share these ground rules and values with your team, then you’ll soon be surrounded with people with nothing to say and you’ll think everything is fine when it isn’t. And so I want to encourage you, if you’re a leader here, I’ll include all these in the show notes, share these values and ground rules with your team. On a consistent basis and before an opportunity for your team to have a hard conversation and not just your team.
Doug Smith: 12:52 How about in your one-on-ones? Share these values and ground rules with them. Hey, I want you to always be able to speak up and have conversations with me, so here are some ground rules that I live by and that I want our team to live by. For one, we want to have hard conversations and when you start doing that, it’ll get everyone on the same page and you start to create a culture of people willing and able to have hard conversations and move on. So now that we’ve laid the ground rules, I just want to walk you through the steps and actually having hard conversations that I’ve learned and so seven quick steps and then we’ll wrap up the lesson. The first thing to do when you need to have a hard conversation has actually recognized the need to have hard conversations. I talked about my leadership journey that I wasn’t even aware in my journey, that I needed to have hard conversations and so I just wrote here.
Doug Smith: 13:40 If you find yourself consistently complaining about others or about other issues, then you most likely need to have a hard conversation. If you find yourself gossiping about people who are underperforming about people who are not treating you right about people that you’re not working well together with, uh, when, when you find Yourself Gossiping about a decision that was made that you don’t understand or that you start to think you can make a better decision than the leaders in your organization or if you don’t think you’re moving up fast enough or you don’t think the leaders in your organization know what they’re doing, right? These are all opportunities to have hard conversations and so first just recognize the need to have hard conversations, which leads to step number two, at least at this point, determine how many hard conversations you’ve been putting off that you need to have.
Doug Smith: 14:27 How many hard conversations have you been putting off that you need to have and literally get out a piece of paper. Get Out your journal and start listening to them one by one, which leads to step number three, which is planned for the hard conversation. Plan for the hard conversation. Again, you know you have a list of hard conversations to have. Start to look at each person and each issue, right and ask yourself this about the other person. How does this person communicate? Are they direct and thinks and speak quickly? Do they need time to process, et cetera? Again, I talked about this earlier, but this is why personality tests are so important because you become aware of the way other people like to be communicated to and the way they communicate and so just plan. Just start to think through what is this conversation going to look like, which leads to step number four is actually write out the hard conversation in a journal.
Doug Smith: 15:17 This was probably the most life-changing, a step that changed the way I have hard conversations because I. I liked. I process out loud and so sometimes if I just process out loud in a conversation, I say all kinds of dumb things, but journaling enables me to process on my own before I process out loud to someone else and so step four is write out hard conversations in a journal and here are the questions that I would ask yourself in journal about. Number one, what is the context of this situation that I’m upset about? Number two, what am. What am I thinking? What am I thinking about the whole situation or the person? Number three, what am I feeling? What am I feeling about it? What emotions are coming out as a result of this? Number four, what do I want for myself in this situation?
Doug Smith: 16:02 What do I want? What are my wants? And then number five, how about this? What do you want for the other person? What do you want for the other person? Number six, what do you want for the organization? What’s the win-win for the organization if an organization is involved? And then seven, what is your proposed plan for a solution? And I encourage you literally take those questions and literally write out your entire response of the conversation in a journal and I think you’ll be shocked at how much comes out and how much you learn before you even have the hard conversation about the conversation you want to have a, and again, I’ll include notes to this in the show notes and so you’ll be able to access these questions there. Number five is once you’ve prepared for the conversation and journaled out what you want to say, then it’s time to pull off the band-aid and schedule the hard conversation just like that coach did to me in his office and said, call right now and set up the appointment.
Doug Smith: 16:56 That’s what I’m telling you to do right now. Take your list of people that you need to have hard conversations with and reach out to each of them and put a time on the calendar. Just pull off the band-aid. That’s one of the greatest principles I think, and having hard conversations. You’re never going to go to a point where it’s like, man, this is going to feel really good. I can’t wait to have a hard conversation today. No, you’re never going to get there. Just pull off the band-aid and go a number six. Have the hard conversation actually habits, so you’ve scheduled the appointment. Now you’re sitting one on one across from a person that you’re having an issue with. Here are my thoughts on what that conversation would look like. First is to simply tell the person up front that this is going to be a difficult conversation and it’s difficult for you because you’ve never really done these well in your past and then share the ground rules, but hey, I want you to know that I’m not going to leave anything on the table.
Doug Smith: 17:43 I want you to know that I believe the best about you, that I want this to be a win. Win. Again, just go through some ground rules and set a foundation for a hard conversation and then I always. I think this is so vital. Asked them to listen to you all the way through before you’re done, before they speak. Because a lot of times if someone has a direct personality, they won’t listen. They want to start to justify or start to answer whatever question that they think needs to be answered here and say, Hey, could you do me a favor and actually listened to me all the way through and then three, I want you to repeat what I said, so it’s clear that we’re both on the same page and I didn’t miscommunicate anything. And then once they repeat that, then they can respond.
Doug Smith: 18:23 Okay. So, Hey, this is what I heard you say, is that correct? And then you can say, yes, that’s correct, let’s move forward and then they can respond and then you do the exact same thing. So Hey, you repeat back to them what you heard and then continue to the conversation. So I heard you say this, is that correct? No, it wasn’t quite that. Okay, well, can you explain better or more do it again? Okay, now it makes sense. Let’s move forward. And ultimately you just go back and forth like that and don’t stop until you both feel like you’re on the same page with a plan of how to move forward. Um, and again, if you get to an impasse where you can’t move forward, that’s where the Matthew 18 model would say maybe you need to bring in a third party to help facilitate the conversation and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Doug Smith: 19:03 Um, and so again, uh, and then step seven is once resolved, move on, move on, Stop Gossiping about the issue with the person and refuse to allow others to gossip to you about it. I used to love being the person that everyone came to and gossip too because it made me feel, I probably powerful writer like that everyone is on my team, uh, but it was extremely unhealthy for me and it’s unhealthy for them and so refused to allow others to gossip to you and teach them how to have hard conversations. And you just repeat that process over and over and over again. So those are the steps that I use to have hard conversations. So in summary, having hard conversations is absolutely necessary. If you’re going to be successful in life, it’ll matter in your workplace and your leadership and your marriage and your friendships in every other area of your life, and I hope that if you’ve been unable to have hard conversations because of your past or you’re on the other end, you’ve always been able to have them, but not in the most healthy way.
Doug Smith: 19:59 I hope that you’ll start to grow in this area starting today. I’ve mentioned it, but everything I shared, uh, in today’s lesson is available in the show notes and in episode transcripts. So I would encourage you to check that out if you want to actually look at all the questions again and if this lesson helped you, I would love to know, you can simply email me@DougSmithatlthreeleadership.org, or share this on social media. It’s always encouraging and helpful to know that we’re actually adding value to leaders and helping them in their leadership journey. So thanks again for listening and I’ll be back again next episode. [inaudible]
Doug Smith: 20:31 everyone. Thank you so much for listening to my lesson on how to have hard conversations. I hope that it added value to you. Again, you can find the notes from the lesson. You can find ways to connect with me and links to everything that I discussed in the lesson in the show email@example.com. Forward slash episode. Oh, four. I want to thank our sponsor, Alex Tulandin. Alex is a full-time realtor with Keller WRealtys realty and if you were looking to buy or sell a house in the Pittsburgh market, Alex is your guy. He’s a member and a supporter of l, three leadership and he would love to have an opportunity to connect with you. You can find out more about Alex@Pittsboropropertyshowcase.com.
Doug Smith: 21:07 I also want to thank our sponsor, Henne Jewelers. They’re jeweler owned by my friend and mentor, John Henne, my wife Laura and I got an engagement and wedding rings through many jewelers and we just think they’re incredible. Not only do they have great jewelry, but they also invest in people. In fact, they give every engaged couple of books to help them prepare for their marriage and we just love that. And so if you’re in need of a good jeweler, checkout henny jewelers.com, as always, if you want to stay up to date with everything we’re doing here at l three leadership, you can simply go to our website at L3leadership.org and sign up for our email list and you will start to get weekly emails updating you on everything going on here at l three. As always, I like to end with a quote and today I will quote Prime Minister Benjamin disraeli. He said this, he said, the secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his time when it comes. I love that the secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his time when it comes. Thanks for listening and being a part of L3 leadership. Laura, and I appreciate you so much and we’ll talk to you next episode.