It’s time to talk

I wonder if the following research surprises you. In 2008 Performance Coaching International surveyed 750 managers in public, private and voluntary sectors about how they addressed poor performance in their staff. They found that 70 percent of the managers said that they were either unable or unwilling to have the “courageous conversation” needed to address underperformance.

The managers gave two main reasons. Firstly, there was an underlying fear of having such conversations. Secondly, there was a lack of understanding about how to go about them.

When I’ve had to manage an under-performing member of staff, I’ve learnt that having some know-how about conversation makes a big difference. It’s enabled me to call up my courage, remove obstacles and bring about enhanced performance. It’s also made me feel good. Talking to someone when there were tough things to say without rupturing the relationship is a key skill, not just professionally but personally.

Having a courageous conversation

Here are a few observations about what helps a “courageous conversation” to happen:

–       Everyone who’s present participates.

–       Each person says what’s true for them.

–       Everyone is listened to.

–       People talk about what really matters.

–       No one tries to control where the conversation goes.

–       People respect each other’s differences.

What, in your experience, has helped you to talk when you’d rather not? How have you faced into difficult situations? What wisdom can you share with others?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to learn from you!

4 replies
  1. melania
    melania says:

    You’re doing a great job Sarah ! I’m glad people like you exist and try to change things. I’m convinced that communication could make the world better and make people happier. Lot of people suffer because of the lack of communication. Often, dialogues finish in a fight. Everybody is yelling and nobody is listening. It is sometimes impossible to discuss about important and sensitive things. The fact that I have learnt many languages was like an unconscious desire to communicate and facilitate relationships with others. I also studied occupational psychology to try to understand why people act like they do, why they harm themselves and the people around them so much …
    Dialogue can bring so much serenity, well being and productivity at work but also in our lives.
    The challenge is to find strategies to communicate with each person and to overcome the egos problems. How to accept that what people say can hurt us and that we will suffer, and keep in mind that this will bring a positive change?

    • sarah
      sarah says:

      Dear Melania,

      Thanks so much for being in touch. It’s great to hear your commitment to changing the world by helping people to change how they relate to each other. I wish you all the very best for your mission.

      The question I am asking myself at the moment is as follows. What if people could turn their relationships, in all areas of their lives, from a source of stress to a wellspring of well-being? What would it take for us to connect, communicate and co-create in life-enriching rather than life-destroying ways?

      I am exploring my answers to these questions through my coaching, consulting and writing. I’m finding that so much of it comes down to healthy and truthful communication. Listening, as you say, can go a long way to bridging the gap between people.

      Very best,


  2. Jeremy Ducane
    Jeremy Ducane says:

    Hi Sarah. Really good website and some very interesting and important questions. I think, for me, having ‘successful’ difficult conversations is often a matter of context. That is to say getting away from WHERE the original problem or sequence of problems occurred. Also I think that planning the encounter is important. This I always did in an amateurish way – simply trying to anticipate reactions and possible outcomes (including those I desperately wanted to avoid). I think this is where your book helps most – it gives a much better structure and approach for this stage. One thing that always used to help me was stating upfront “whatever happens between this and now I want this working relationship to continue.” And, it was often the case that subsequent conversations had to reinforce this intention – sometimes in small ways – by pointing out how much I wanted to continue to work together, even though differences had occurred. But, it’s always a risk – and there are always unknowns and unanticipated twists and turns. JD

    • sarah
      sarah says:

      Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Delighted that you like the website!

      I agree that being in the right space – both physically and psychologically – is important for a difficult conversation. It’s great to hear that the book has helped you with creating a more conscious gameplan.

      It’s a challenge, however, because no matter how well we plan for a conversation, we also have to let all that go and improvise! But we riff best when we’ve done our “scales” so to speak!

      I also like the way you underline how you state a clear intention upfront to continue in the working relationship. Although my work is ostensibly about conversation, it’s really about how we relate, human being to human being.

      It’s great to be in conversation with you!

      Very best,



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