A Step-by-Step Outline for Starting a Tough Conversation

Let’s say you need to deliver some critical feedback. How do you kick off the conversation?

Maybe you get straight to the point and rip off the band-aid. Just go straight for the jugular.

Alternatively, maybe you start with a simple question, “How are things going?” Your hope is that they bring up the issue and save you a mountain of worry. Obviously they know something is wrong, right?

Critical conversations can be awkward. There’s this giant elephant in the room, and it’s tough to find the right approach to talk about said elephant.

I’m just finishing up Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. The book provides a structure for having “fierce” conversations, which Scott describes as:

[A conversation] in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.

In a more practical sense, fierce conversations are those in which we can truthfully attack an issue that’s probably difficult to acknowledge, have an honest conversation, come to a shared understanding, and set some kind of action plan to address the root issue moving forward.

Scott describes the perfect 60-second intro to a fierce conversation. Having flubbed my fair share, I found it to be a helpful template to avoid some of the awkwardness and get into the meat of the conversation.

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What Does “Buy In” Really Mean?

My colleague over at Automattic, Simon, recently kicked off a discussion inspired by this talk by Janice Fraser at Mind the Product.

The talk expands on three key points related to work and life, but it was her final point that stuck out – “You Don’t Get Buy-in in a Single Meeting”.

Fraser mentions that she isn’t a fan of the phrase buy-in for several reasons.

  • Nobody knows what it is.
  • Everyone thinks they have it.
  • Once we get it, we forget about keeping it.

She then introduces an acronym “UBAD,” which stands for understanding, belief, advocacy, and decision-making – the core components of getting everyone onboard with a direction/vision.

I’d encourage you to watch the entire video, but today, I wanted to share some thoughts around generating buy-in and overcoming the hurdles Fraser identified.

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