Avoiding that Difficult Conversation? Learn Strategies for Making This Easier

Avoiding that Difficult Conversation? Learn Strategies for Making This Easier

by Reta Coburn

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there… a situation where we have to deal with conflict, or a difficult topic. Regardless of whether you are a person who tends to avoid these conversations, or one who jumps in and addresses the issue immediately, it is wise to take a little time to prepare to ensure the best outcome.

How to approach and have difficult conversations or work through conflict is a topic that repeatedly comes up in my coaching conversations. In fact, it is one of the top five issues that plague individuals. What’s more, it’s not unique to any particular level of individual in the organization or type of role for that matter – everyone has to navigate these conversations in their workplace and at home. Perhaps this topic resonated for you because you’re facing one at the moment.

Since it is such a common issue, and avoiding the problem only serves to make the situation more difficult, you can benefit from learning some strategies to help you address the problem and work toward an appropriate resolution. 

If you have the opportunity to take some time before a difficult conversation, some investment in planning for it will strengthen the outcome. However, sometimes you are caught in the moment and don’t have the time to strategize first. Either way, here are some practical and easy to implement next steps that may offer support.

What Outcome Do I Want?

The first thing I usually ask a coaching client after they explain the challenge they need to work through with someone is “what is the outcome that you want from the conversation?”

“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

— Stephen R. Covey

Depending on the issue, it may be helpful to explore the outcomes that you want to achieve in two steps. 

  • The first step looks at the issue that has arisen and is prompting the conversation. It is the behavior we want to stop (or start), resolution that is needed on a problem, action required on something pressing, etc. 
  • The second step is uncovering any other desired outcomes that could be more foundational in nature, such as sustainability around the changes, better communication going forward and leaving the relationship intact or better afterward.

Are You Looking at the Situation Through Others’ Perspectives?

It can be beneficial to use perspective taking strategies, like zooming out, to prepare for navigating a difficult conversation. Taking a bird’s eye view and asking yourself open ended questions about the other person’s standpoint such as:

  • What might be important to this person on this issue?
  • Why might they be taking that approach to this problem? 
  • Are there factors or information they have/don’t have that might be shaping their position on this? 

A pause for this contemplation allows us to consider other possibilities and determine how to best approach the conversation and use our influence to guide toward a positive outcome. Influence is a key skill, and one of the emotional intelligence competencies. Daniel Goleman describes influence as the ability to have a positive impact on others, to persuade or convince them to gain their support. 

Some questions you might ask yourself to help you work toward achieving alignment as you prepare are:

  • Where do we share common views or goals in this situation?
  • What are some objections that the individual will have with my position?
  • How can my approach support them or how might they react to these points? 

The ultimate goal is to facilitate a dialogue and guide it toward your ideal outcome or adapt in the moment to new information and reach an alternative conclusion that you’re satisfied with.

Are You Challenging Your Assumptions?

As you’re zooming out, also challenge yourself on your assumptions. You may be feeling that the other person is being selfish, only thinking about how their team looks in this situation. But if you choose to give yourself space to consider that there may be other possibilities, perhaps there are other things at play? Consider the possibilities and keep your assumptions in check:

  • Maybe their team had some recent setbacks and missed a critical deadline so they feel under elevated pressure to deliver.
  • Perhaps they have lost key people on their team and are struggling.
  • Possibly they are facing setbacks in their personal life and are simply not able to put their best foot forward. 

Instead of allowing our thoughts to get away from us with assumptions, try interrupting those thoughts and give the other person the benefit of good intentions. Moving ourselves from being closed off or rigid to open or even empathic can support a richer dialogue and healthier exchange that keeps the relationship intact. 

Remember that Words Matter

Do you remember a time where you phrased something in a particular way or chose select words that you wished you could have a do-over for? That is a resounding yes for most of us. We have used words or phrases in the heat of the moment that didn’t land well and took the conversation off course. To the extent you can, putting advance thought into how you frame points or questions that you want to raise can serve you well. It may free you from struggling in the moment to find the ‘right words’ and create more space to listen and focus on the exchange you’re having. 

A few examples might help illustrate why words matter. 

  • Prelude phrases like “with all due respect” can be perceived as I am about to say something that you’re not going to like. 
  • Responding to a point or argument with “I disagree and …” may inadvertently heighten tensions. You can still be heard by simply raising your rebuttal without first putting your stake in the ground. Or you might say, “My perspective on that is different. The experience I had with that was …” or “I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from. Can you share with me how you got to that place?” 
  • Be thoughtful in your use of the word “why” in questioning. Why questions can feel interrogating for some people and inadvertently put them on the defensive. “Why did you do it that way?” as an example might be received as critical versus approaching it differently with:
    • Can you share how you evaluated the options to get there?
    • Tell me more about how you approached that.
    • What types of risks did you identify in your analysis?

You get to the same result but reframing your why question in this manner will invite the other person to explain and educate instead of moving into defense territory. You might find it helpful to jot down a few bullets on how you’d like to frame certain points you are going to raise or how you might respond, anticipating challenges that you expect to hear.

Setting the Table, So to Speak

I have had many clients who struggle to initiate the conversation. What are the right words to open with and how do I convey my concerns when I know I will face a strong reaction? This worry becomes an obstacle for them, time slips away and then it is too late. Other clients are naturally comfortable charging ahead with these conversations or have already built their competence in candor and are at ease through routine practice. 

For those of you who struggle, this structure of ‘setting the table’ can support you as you build competence or if you’re naturally a processor it may simply be a tool that you onboard to create space for yourself to prepare. In either case, I would ask you how you could ‘set the table’ for the conversation. Here are some examples of how that could sound:

  • That was a good conversation. I can see that we’re not fully aligned yet so I am going to look at our calendars and carve some time out for us to explore this more.
  • You shared a viewpoint at the meeting this morning about my region’s performance that l would like to understand better. Can we connect tomorrow on it after the client site visit?
  • I can see how important this is to you and feel like we need to dialogue more on this once I can reflect on the points you raised. Would it be okay for us to revisit tomorrow?

There are many ways to create the space you might need so hopefully these examples serve as inspiration for you to land on language that feels right for you.

How Do You Want to Show Up? (Intentionality)

Lastly, let’s shift and focus inward for a few moments. You’ve thought about the outcomes that you want to achieve from the conversation so now I would typically invite clients to think about setting their intention or, as we often say in coaching, how they want to ‘show up’. 

If you envision the conversation watching yourself from a balcony, what do you want to see? Clients would have very different responses to that question, saying things like they want to: 

  • Put the other person at ease
  • Be confident
  • Create understanding 
  • Promote unity
  • Be curious; facilitate discovery
  • End in a better place than they started
  • Bring positivity, and more

Understand here that in initiating the conversation, you are creating the situation that the other person is responding to so your intentionality can make all of the difference.

One bigger picture question that I invite you to consider is what culture do you aspire to create in respect of candor within your team? Candor is an important ingredient to building trust so as you continue with your journey of having challenging and healthy conversations, perhaps you can also think bigger picture about how candor can strengthen relationships, increase engagement and accelerate your team’s performance. How can you embrace and normalize candor within your interactions and build it as a core competency within your team? 

Sometimes the situations we face in our organizations are just so big and multi-faceted it is difficult to take a step back and remove ourselves from the situation so we can figure out the best next steps. If you feel that you could benefit from an outside view, we would love to connect with you. Contact us at https://innovativeconnectionsinc.com/contact/ or call us at 970-279-3330 for a no obligation, free consult and learn how we can help you develop strategies to help you and your organization move forward successfully.

Getting Leadership Right

Getting Leadership Right

Laurie Cure

“We can only lead to the level of our own consciousness.”

To that point, we can only really live to the level of our awareness. Humanity has handled a lot these last couple of years. We know that burnout levels are up, mental health issues are on the rise and more and more of us are reevaluating what work means in our lives. Studies show employees are putting up healthier boundaries and seeking companies that exhibit confidence in managing the turbulent road ahead. We also know that organizations and leaders are a bit confounded about how to navigate an evolving and complex world with changing employee needs. 

We have been taught certain leadership skills and while many are still highly relevant, some are just not working the way they used to. As I partnered this week with a team and listened to their leader speak, I found myself excited and thinking, “he has it right”. And yet very few leaders are positioned to be effective in this new environment. 

Getting it right in this new era means

  • Raising your level of consciousness

If it’s true we can only lead to the level of our consciousness, then great leaders must continue to gain awareness and insight. They must always be growing and developing themselves. When you stop having “ah-ha” moments about your own skills and deficiencies as a leader, you fail to grow into something better. You suffer, and those around you suffer. Raising your consciousness means continuing to learn about yourself and your effectiveness as a leader. Assessments, such as 360’s, personality/style, and emotional intelligence, can be critical in this process. Coaching, leadership training, book studies and other methods are necessary areas for leaders to focus time and resources.

  • Letting go of getting it right

The leader I referred to above shared with his team, “we might not get it right. The budget might be wrong, the environment will likely change and often, we are just giving it our best guess”. The beauty of this perspective is that he continued to share what they will do to correct their course of action if and/or when they get it wrong. They will shift gears quickly, they will integrate new information and make the changes needed to stay on course. They will set up a structure to warn them when they are wrong so they can adjust. Being right is getting more and more difficult as the variables in our environment become more complex. Changing your mental framework and allowing yourself to be wrong, but still stay on track, offers a lens of flexibility. 

  • Fail fast and fix it– Along with the statement above, leaders have to be able to make decisions quickly. This means having the best possible data (which might not always be the best data), integrating it rapidly, gaining stakeholder input and buy-in and moving to action at record speed. Sometimes, it’s okay to have a solution that only gets you 80% of the way there (not always, but sometimes). The path changes, so leaving yourself some space to adjust can serve you.
  • Build hope There is a formula for cultivating hope and hope helps employees to maintain optimism, focus and engagement. Have a vision for the future that is inspiring and attainable. Offer people a path towards that vision- there are many roads to the same destination. Allow people control over their role in taking you forward. People want to feel valued, important and a part of something bigger. Give them that chance. 

Growing our consciousness is all about looking at the world with a different lens. It is a constant journey of uncovering ourselves, our values, our identity, our place and responsibilities to the people and world around us and finding an authenticity that serves. 

Many times organizations and their leaders need help to begin moving in the right direction, we would love to be part of your journey. Contact us to schedule a free consult at admin@InnovativeConnectionsInc.com or call us at 970-279-3330.

Just Keep Swimming Putting People First Through Constant Change

Just Keep Swimming Putting People First Through Constant Change

By Kailey Bowser

It’s no surprise that most businesses are experiencing change unlike they have ever seen. You can see it on the doors of most businesses; adjusted hours, limited menus, and staffing shortages. We are seeing slower response times, delayed projects, tightening of budgets, and reprioritization. You can see it in how businesses are changing their operations and how they run their business entirely. Businesses are restructuring, making layoffs, cutting benefits and asking more of the people that are still working. 

Through all of this, we are hearing from clients, “How do we push through these changes while focusing on our people?” and “How do we keep up with our day-to-day expectations with limited resources?”

We invite you to look at this from a leadership perspective. As a leader, how do you navigate through these changes day after day while outwardly projecting hope and positivity? As a leader, how do you make the future less fearful for your staff? And, how do you show up to tough and inevitable conversations from a place of humanity?

We, at Innovative Connections, are living through it, just the same as you. While we don’t have all of the answers, we are learning, and growing, and finding new ways of operating our business. We, like you, strive to communicate effectively, be as transparent as possible, and continue to put our People First through it all. 

In our work, we find that leaders are struggling with questions like:

“We don’t have the revenue coming in to pay for operations or salaries, how do we move forward?”

“Amidst constant chaos and a changing work environment, how do we keep company culture alive?”

“How strong is our underlying business model?”

“What are our plans for remote or hybrid work?”

“How are we supporting our staff through this roller coaster of transitions?”    

If you are experiencing any of this, here are some tips:

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare for conversations.
  2. Walk people through their options and different scenarios of what the future could look like in their role.
  3. Explain the why and explain it thoroughly. Be as transparent as you can.
  4. Take time everyday to check in on your key team members. Share what you can along the way so they don’t make decisions based on fear.
  5. Acknowledge that the transition to fully accept a change takes time and trust. Understand that time and trust varies among everyone and be mindful of that period of time.
  6. Encourage questions, and use the knowledge you have to calm fears to the extent you can given the situation. Be honest, and realistic. Do not make promises you cannot keep. 
  7. Remember through it all to celebrate and recognize your people in ways that are meaningful to the them.
  8. Find the silver lining after a big change has happened.

We are here to help you navigate these difficult times, whether it is restructuring, human resources, recruitment and/or retention, strategic planning, leadership development, or other workforce issues. Please contact us for a free consultation at 970-279-3330 or admin@innovativeconnectionsinc.com.

Looking to Reduce Stress and Increase Fulfillment at Work and at Home? Start by Creating Healthy Boundaries

Looking to Reduce Stress and Increase Fulfillment at Work and at Home? Start by Creating Healthy Boundaries

By Barb Ward

You’ve likely heard, maybe even to the point of exhaustion, that work-life balance is essential to both your personal life and your professional career. This balance has perhaps become even more imperative – and more difficult  – post-pandemic. This is where setting boundaries becomes so important.

The boundaries we set can directly affect our relationships with others. An ability to create mindful, healthy boundaries allows us to both effectively manage how we impact others and how others impact us. However, if boundaries are too restrictive, too loose, or too blurred, it can result in increased stress and dysfunction.

Innovative Connections has worked with many clients, helping them establish healthy boundaries from the foundations of the four quadrants of Emotional Intelligence. Creating these boundaries requires some level of trust and, ideally, direct communication between individuals to establish clear agreements. As we look at the four quadrants of emotional intelligence, we should consider how they might influence how we create and manage our boundaries?

  1. Self-Awareness: What motivates and influences your behavior in your relationships? Why do you create the boundaries you do? When you are establishing a boundary, do you discuss it explicitly?
  2. Self-Management: Do you say ‘no’ (keep things out) when you mean ‘no’? How about when you say ‘yes’ (let things in)? Do you use emotional regulation and pause before deciding to accept or decline in a situation?
  3. Social Awareness: Do you notice how those around you create their boundaries? How do your boundaries impact theirs, and how could yours be modified for a better outcome?
  4. Relationship Management: Do you actively establish agreements when creating boundaries with others? Do you clarify and renegotiate agreements when necessary? Do you honor the boundaries of others?

By thoughtfully considering the answers to these questions we can determine what we are doing well, and those areas where we could improve, ultimately making our boundaries more effective.

Setting healthy boundaries helps us create and maintain:

Psychological Health: We are social creatures who crave and require connection with others. However, it’s necessary for these connections to be managed thoughtfully. Setting clear expectations around our boundaries helps reduce the possibility of misunderstandings and increases engagement, satisfaction, and productivity in the workplace.

Healthy Relationships: By failing to create appropriate boundaries, others may unwittingly overstep our wishes and/or violate our preferences for what amount of ourselves we are willing to share. It takes introspection and social awareness to understand and create balance between our needs and the needs of others to best serve the relationship. In achieving that balance, these boundaries allow us to maintain our self-esteem, our happiness, and healthy relationships.

Resiliency: Boundaries are instrumental in dealing with stress. They bolster our resiliency by helping us effectively navigate and cope with challenges. Part of this ability allows us to ask for help when appropriate (and in the right ways), but it also gives us self-efficacy in knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.

Work Life Balance: When we communicate a clear delineation between what we will do and what we won’t do, we minimize potential conflicts in our work, and personal lives, and people know what to expect from us.

After we’ve set and communicated our boundaries, it’s important to follow-through on them and not let others manipulate or guilt us into changing our minds. While it can feel awkward to say “no” when we first begin, it becomes easier over time, and we will reap the rewards in the long run.

We’d love to talk with you if you are interested in learning more. Contact us at admin@innovativeconnectionsinc.com or call 970-279-3330.

Building Resilience for a New Year

Building Resilience for a New Year

By Holly LeMaster

Would that it were not true: that we must continue to become even ever more resilient as we cross the threshold into a brand new year. Wouldn’t it be lovely, instead, to find ourselves in a reality that continuously lifts us up, encourages us, supports us, gives us everything we need to thrive in joy and abundance, with ease and grace? Especially after the harsh realities and head-spinning levels of change we’ve navigated over these past three years.

But, alas, these are the times that we find ourselves in today. A leader recently told me she felt like the train just keeps coming at her, faster and faster. It’s true that our world can be:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

(For more on VUCA environments, read this post.)

It will require our continued, intentional focus on developing, deepening, and leaning into our own personal resilience to get through. Resilience is, quite simply, our ability to recover from whatever difficulties we may be facing in our lives, to adapt to threats, and to manage stress. When we are resilient, we can cope more easily and have a greater capacity to face our day-to-day challenges—both large and small.

How resilient we are depends on a number of factors, including inherent traits in our personality, our level of emotional intelligence, our perspectives and mental models, our mental and physical health, our ability to create boundaries and say “no,” and other complex, interrelated factors that fluctuate over time and with different circumstances. 

The good news is that building resilience is a skill. With tools, techniques, and intention, we can each learn to become more hardy human beings. Now, this looks different on each of us. And resiliency traits can be grouped into four primary categories:

Physical Resilience

  • I focus on physical health and well-being
  • I take breaks from my day and allow for rejuvenation as needed
  • I get enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition


Mental Resilience 

  • I have a strong inner purpose that drives me
  • I don’t give up – I persevere
  • I have discipline and willpower


Emotional Resilience 

  • I am aware of my emotions and can integrate them
  • I have an optimistic attitude and positive perspective
  • I establish and hold healthy boundaries


Social Resilience 

  • I foster strong, supportive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers
  • I am involved in activities and with people where I feel cared about, valued, and respected
  • I can talk openly with others when I feel stress or worry


Contemplate, for a moment, these four categories of resilience. And think about the kinds of obstacles you anticipate may impede your path in the new year. Consider:

Where are you already strong, resilient, and change-hardy? 

What natural skills can you lean on for support?

And where are your opportunities to build new strengths and practice new techniques for resilience and well-being?

In these VUCA times, it’s important to remember that each and every human being is facing our own version of life’s challenges, and we don’t have to do it in isolation, on our own. As we move into 2023, remember that it is okay to reach out and ask for the help and support you need to be resilient, to find joy (our natural human birthright!), and to thrive.

Best wishes from Innovative Connections for a healthy, resilient, and meaningful 2023!

Stay positive and “always look at the bright side of life”

Stay positive and “always look at the bright side of life”

By Laurie Cure

Police search lake for missing girl

6.4 earthquake hits California

Synagogue attacker took hostages

North Korea threatens military steps against Japan

Uvalde school district fails key security test

News headlines (like today’s above) can leave one feeling anything but optimistic. We are bombarded with the struggles of the #Great Resignation, #QuietFiring, economic challenges, labor shortages. . . the list goes on and on.

In researching a topic this morning, I found 8 articles all dating from 2003 to current. This statement appeared in every one of them. “America is coping with a difficult economy”. Are we ever not in crisis?

Crafting a narrative is important and how we view the world shapes everything. I find myself wondering if there is a way to pose a more appreciative story or is this truly the neverending reality we operate from?

In a world where the negative and sensationalized is viewed as the only way to garner attention, leaders must consciously and assertively break the mold. In reality, individuals are not motivated, inspired or engaged by a gloom and doom lens and hope is not built around cynicism. 

In our world, optimism does not come easily, yet your employees (and likely yourself) are craving it. Optimism is the fuel that drives achievement and dedication. Optimism paints a vision of the future that people can get on board with and unite around. It incorporates realities, but taps into innate perseverance that becomes a rallying cry for positive forward movement. 

You know those people. Not the ones who are annoyingly positive, but the leaders you have had the privilege of following. 

  • The ones who offer hope and support. 
  • The ones who break down your fear and give you a platform to achieve something great. 
  • The ones who show you a path to get to your and the organization’s goals.

Optimistic leaders are the ones who can align your goals, their goals and the organization’s goals seamlessly. They reflect the favorable aspects of the future and set the expectation for a positive outcome. They are encouraging, build momentum and invest in those around them. They embrace a #growth mindset.

Being an optimistic leader requires you to ground yourself in a new story. It requires us to build a genuine sense of hope. Here are some tips to support you in building optimism as a leader

1. Co-create an inspiring vision of the future and celebrate the milestones along the path. 

The future is a blank slate. It offers a picture that can be anything you want it to be. Get yourself into a position or location to envision a new future. Talk to new people, with new ideas, bring your team together to explore what is possible and paint a picture that inspires you and your team and aligns to your core values. 

Often, we can see a better future and even inspire others to that future, but we don’t stop to appreciate all the work we have accomplished along the way. We take a lot of steps towards creating our future, but rarely do we pause to look back with a little appreciation. We also risk moving the goalpost and fail to recognize or appreciate all the growth we have achieved. Pause, recognize, and celebrate how far you have come. 

2. Embrace a possibility mindset

It can be easy, tempting and often rewarding to wallow and complain. After all, life is hard and it’s frustrating when others don’t see your struggle. I often use the phrase, “we have to complain before we can create”. Our challenge as individuals and leaders is to know when to flip the switch. At some point, complaining takes over, becomes exhausting for others and stops getting you the benefits you once felt from it. At some point, your complaining, must turn to creating. Consider the possibilities, seek new ways of addressing your challenges and find learning in everything. These things help us to remain optimistic.

3. Take control and exert your personal agency

We give up our power all the time. In reality we have infinite choices that can take us in infinite directions. We might not always like the choices available to us at the time, but we always have control and agency that we can exercise.  Prioritize what matters most, consider the consequences of various options, explore the specifics of where you do have control and take action. 

Optimism requires a new mindset. It means shifting your lens. It’s not about always being positive, but it IS about always seeing the brighter side.