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  • Kelsea Koenreich

How to Have Tough Conversations and Clearly Communicate What You Need

There’s nothing worse than when someone we trust lets us down. Be that our employee or someone who we deeply love. As business leaders it’s not uncommon for us to be on the receiving end of something that doesn’t meet our standards or expectations.


It’s our least favorite part of the job, having to tell someone they didn’t perform well or give feedback that we are afraid will hurt their feelings.


It’s also a necessary part of the job that helps people grow tremendously.


Too often, women leaders avoid saying what really needs to be said to get things done at the level they want them. We don’t want to make anyone upset as people pleasers, and we ourselves don’t want to go through the discomfort of a hard conversation.


The issue is, when we avoid these conversations or aren’t truthful with what we need - both people lose. Many business owners will take on the work that wasn’t done to their standards and make the changes themselves, pulling them out of the visionary seat and back into day-to-day operations.


And then there is built up resentment about how our needs aren't being met, even knowing we aren’t clearly communicating what we need.


Changing The Way We See Feedback


Before we dig into how to have these hard conversations, let's reframe how we even see these conversations so that you have a shift in perspective. 


We avoid and procrastinate these conversations, or if we have them don’t fully say what we need, because of our fear of hurting someone. We don’t want to make anyone upset with us because that disrupts the picture we want to paint of ourselves as leaders. And we want everyone to like us, which is completely impossible. 


So, remember first - no matter what you do, what you say or how great of a human you are… people won’t like you. Phew, okay now that we have that out of the way and you can stop trying to be everyone’s cup of tea lets keep it moving.The most interesting thing about not having tough conversations because we don’t want to upset anyone is that we actually hinder their growth instead. So, you didn’t make them upset… but you did keep them small. 


Giving constructive criticism allows people to change and learn, without failing, we stay the same. By not having the conversations that plant seeds for growth, your people that you want to evolve and grow - do the opposite.


Instead of looking at these conversations as something negative, you need to shift to seeing the positive changes that will occur. For you, and for them.


Leading the Conversation


Now we know that it’s a lose, lose for both sides when we don’t have the conversations or offer the feedback… how do we actually approach these conversations?


As people, we are more likely to do things that we feel are our own ideas. We have emotional attachments to things we develop, and helping your team (or people you are in relationships with) develop ideas by inquiring with questions helps put a different feel to the conversation.


Here are some key pieces to having tough conversations:

  • Give yourself time and space to process your emotions first. You don’t want to rush in, guns blazing, resentful and angry. That conversation will go nowhere, so resist the urge to be reactive and instead take some time to process how you really feel about the situation and what you want to see happen.


  • Speak clearly and directly, talking about YOU not THEM. The more you say “You did this” or “You didn’t do this” the more they are shutting down their ability to listen and started to build a defense against what you are saying. Rather than using “you” start with “I”. Speak about your experience and emotions around the issue at hand.


“I expected that this would be…”

“I am unclear on why this is happening…”

“I’ve given directives that aren’t being adhered to…”


  • Be clear in your expectations. Most people want to do a good job, if they are missing the mark they need guidance on how to do better. Take accountability for what you haven’t given them that’s necessary to mee the standard.


  • Ask questions to invite them into problem-solving. What do they think needs to change to deliver a better result? What do they see that could be improved?



When someone isn’t performing well or meeting your personal or professional needs, you want to give them an opportunity to fix it. Reprimanding them will make them feel scared, small and not build the trust they need to do good work for you. If instead you open the conversation with what you are experiencing, talk about what your expectation is, give them what they need to succeed and ask them questions to inquire deeper, it will make the conversation productive and relieving.


If you’re stuck in your day-to-day operations and need a clear plan to keep making an impact with your work without sacrificing more time away from your family in the process - book a call to see how I can help you elevate into your visionary role and truly lead your company.





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