build trust while leading critical conversations - build bridges, not walls

5 Easy Ways To Lead A Critical Conversation In A Way That Builds Trust

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been late on a few deadlines recently…

Your motivation also seems to be quite low in our weekly meetings…

My concern is that this is affecting your performance…

Any thoughts on where my observations might be coming from?”

Giving positive feedback or announcing a promotion are examples of conflict-free conversations.

However, when it comes to addressing a poor performance issue like the above example, the conversation can be more challenging.

Just because you need to address a critical situation, doesn’t mean the conversation needs to be difficult…it’s actually a fantastic opportunity to build trust.

The way you approach critical conversations paints a good picture of how you approach your role as a leader.

Above all, these conversations should be embraced, not avoided!

Here are 5 ways you can build trust while leading a difficult conversations plus 3 questions to ask yourself for each trust-building way.

Co-create To Foster Trust

1). Create a safe environment.

  • Are the conditions right for a fruitful exchange: time, place, situation?
  • How can I make the environment a safer place (put yourself in their shoes for this one)?
  • What can I say or do to communicate respect at the very start (e.g. offer them a coffee/tea)?

2). Listen with your ears, eyes, voice & body.

  • Is my body language open to receive and exchange – do they feel free to open up?
  • What is their non-verbal communication saying? Their tone of voice?
  • Do my body language and voice match my words?

mismatch between words and body language

Do his words match his face?

PRO TIP: Pay attention to your body language and don’t send mixed verbal or non-verbal messages.

3). Ask smart questions to engage their creative thinking skills.

  • Are my questions designed to judge and criticize or to clarify and explore?
  • How can I frame my questions to get them to open up without needing to defend or justify?
  • How do my questions stimulate their creative thinking skills?

Which question sounds more judgmental, Q1 or Q2?

Q1: “Why did you do that?”

Q2: “What would be another way you could do this?”

PRO TIP: Avoid Q1 type “why” questions – they come across judgmental.

4). Communicate your messages clearly and respectfully.

  • Are my messages clear or is there room for doubt or interpretation?
  • Is my voice and non-verbal communication delivered in a respectful way?
  • Am I clear on what I want to communicate and the reasons behind my messages?

5). Co-create the next steps.

  • Have the decisions or next steps been agreed and/or created together?
  • Do we have a common understanding on the next steps?
  • Have I offered my support?

PRO TIP: Always offer your support – even if you think it’s unnecessary.

Approach Determines Outcome

The next time you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, look at it as a chance build a bridge with them – a bridge that can help you cross a potential danger area together.

Rather than approaching it as a dreaded task that’s going to be difficult, approach it as a way to deepen your connection.

After all, if you go into a situation expecting it to be difficult or painful, it probably will be.

But if you go into it with eyes that are looking to connect and co-create, you’ll generate positive energy to lead the conversation while building trust.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. If you’d like to build trust while leading your critical conversations, drop me a note and let’s set up a time to chat: