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Tag Archives: difficult conversations

Respond calmly by “putting a stone in your mouth”

Being able to respond calmly in the face of anger can be difficult.  A client (who is from the Nisga’a nation) recently shared with me this powerful advice from a Nisga’a elder –

“Put a stone in your mouth”. 

It was in the context of being thoughtful about when to speak and what to say in potentially challenging situations.

If only you could turn back time …

Consider for a moment, all the times in the past when you have said something, only to wish afterwards that you could turn back time and do it differently.  All too often, emotionally-charged circumstances cause us say things we invariably regret later.  When you “put a stone in your mouth”, it is a powerful metaphoric reminder to pause; to feel the contours and ragged edges of the rock; to shift it around in your mouth as you consider what you should or ought to say or not say.  When you pause before you speak, the silence can seem interminable to you, but at the end, it can in fact become your best friend.  Words that are spoken thoughtfully, rather than in haste, are much more likely to give you the outcomes that you desire. Continue reading

How to communicate sensitive messages

TimBreithauptSometimes you will have to make decisions that will not be liked by your staff; it’s one of the responsibilities of leadership.  While you can’t avoid making unpopular decisions, there are things that you can do to help your team understand and accept the new reality.  Which is why I am so pleased to welcome today’s guest blogger.

Tim Breithaupt is first and foremost my professional colleague and friend, but he is also the founder and president of Spectrum Training Solutions. As a leading expert in the area of sales development, Tim delivers real-world wisdom to foster a level of sales confidence that boosts sales results to exciting new levels.  Today he joins us on the blog with some specific advice on how to communicate sensitive messages.

Communication is fraught with challenges at the best of times. Ample research suggests that managers and leaders struggle with the task of communicating sensitive messages.  One such example: unexpected changes to job descriptions and responsibilities. By tweaking your delivery (or as I like to say, your bedside manner), you will experience a smoother flow to your message and elevate your communication confidence. To that end I share a proven four-step model that helps to mitigate stress and communicate with impact. Continue reading

How to break bad news to a client

In the world of business, things don’t always go according to plan.  Shipments can get delayed, production lines may break down, and unforeseen events might prevent people from getting the job done.  My latest column for is titled How to Break Bad News to a Client.  In it, I lay out seven steps for when things just don’t go your way and you now have to tell your customers the unfortunate truth without jeopardizing your reputation and credibility.


So do you have anything to add to my seven?  How have you handled the difficult situation of breaking bad news to a client?  Please share by commenting below.

P.S. I am so proud to be in my second year as a regular contributor to’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, and their list of columnists reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I am honoured to be in such distinguished company.

Need to have a difficult conversation with an employee?

Mgr-Emp-1Difficult conversations are just that … difficult … which is why so many of us keep putting them off. Has this ever happened to you? You have a problem or an issue you need to bring up with one of your employees – perhaps it’s a missed deadline, or constant tardiness, or a complaint from a customer – but things are overwhelmingly busy around the office and you can’t seem to make the time. Plus let’s face it, you’re not exactly looking forward to the conversation. So you might do what so many others in your situation do – you say, in passing, to your employee “We need to talk, but now is not a good time.” Don’t.

Why? Well, for one, the anticipation of not knowing what’s going on (even though your employee likely has some idea) will make your staff member feel apprehensive. Essentially you will be creating unease and anxiety without providing an opportunity to alleviate it. If your goal is to resolve the situation or get the employee to change their behaviour, then you’ve created a losing proposition before you’ve even started. Two, Continue reading

“Just calm down” never works!

Businessman trying to calm down his upset negotiation partnerWe’ve all done it – said “just calm down” to another person in a situation of conflict. And I’m willing to bet it’s NEVER worked. Truth be told, saying “relax” or “calm down” (or even “take a chill pill”) is more likely to intensify or prolong the anger and exasperation. These phrases don’t bring stress levels down; instead they are virtually guaranteed to trigger further hostility and escalate the state of affairs. While your intention may have been honorable, the outcome is rarely successful. Inadvertent perhaps, but these types of statements only imply that the other person is unable to control themselves; and even though you may not have meant to, it feels to them like they are being treated like children. Ergo, the sure-fire negative reaction.

So what should you say? Continue reading

Got a problem employee? Don’t whitewash

This has been an eventful week in my world of column writing. Yesterday, my newest Profit article titled How to stay focused by managing workflow interruptions was published on, and this morning, my latest piece for The Globe & Mail‘s Leadership Lab hit cyberspace.

Got a problem employee? Don’t whitewash

is (as you might expect from the title) about “whitewash”, a communication blunder that many managers make where they seek to address a problem behaviour by issuing a broad edict to many, instead of being direct and specific with the particular employee who is the concern. Not only does whitewash not achieve the desired outcome with the problem employee, but perhaps more damaging, it is demoralizing to the high-performers on the team. So how do you NOT whitewash? By having a frank and straightforward conversation with the employee in question. But “How?” you ask. Well, my column gives you the answer by laying out the five key steps to structure your dialogue.


Well now I want to hear from you. What do you think? What have been your experiences with “whitewash”? How have you had that difficult conversation with a problem employee? I’m always interested in other perspectives and viewpoint, including contrary opinions. The primary reason I write these columns is to instigate dialogue; the more we talk about the subjects that make and break us as leaders, the more equipped we are deal with these topics. So please, add your point of view to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, post your Comment here right on the blog, or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).

And please help me get the word out and get the message to as many as possible … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love their thoughts as well!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

Communicating decisions you don’t agree with – Tip #5

For the past three weeks, I’ve been video-blogging about what you can do as a leader when you find yourself charged with implementing changes or decisions that you don’t necessarily agree with. In the final analysis, you have a job to do, which means that you need to get past your own reservations and emotions and move forward with what you have been given responsibility for. In this final video in this five-part series, I lay out the final verdict.

So, in summary, here they all are listed below:

  1. Honestly assess where you are in the change response cycle
  2. Make sure you understand the reasons for the change
  3. Uncover your own reasons for resistance
  4. Identify the pain of not changing
  5. Take accountability for the decision anyway

Well, you now have them all. Agree or disagree? What did I miss? Please keep the conversation going.

Communicating decisions you don’t agree with – Tip #4

This is the fourth in a five-part series of short videos about what to do when you find yourself having to communicate or implement changes (made by senior management in your organization) that you don’t concur with.  Often, the unfortunate truth is that even if you don’t like it, the decision has been made and so you need to get over your own reservations and move forward.

Well?  Too harsh?  Or am I just being realistic? Would love to hear your Comments.

Communicating decisions you don’t agree with – Tip #3

For the last week, I’ve been offering specific ideas on what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you’re being asked as a leader to communicate or implement decisions that you don’t fully agree with yourself. Last week I gave you two ideas; here is one more.

So? Do you think it’s possible to be this honest with ourselves? I say “yes”, but others have told me otherwise. I would love to hear your perspective!

Communicating decisions you don’t agree with – Tip #2

Last blog post I started a five-part series of short videos focusing on how to rise past your own emotions when it comes to communicating changes or decisions in the workplace that you don’t necessarily agree with yourself. After all, it’s tough to sell something to your team if you’ve haven’t bought it yourself! Here’s idea #2.

Thoughts? Is this practical or unrealistic? Please share by adding a Comment below.