Why You Need to Hold Fierce Conversations

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The test of a great relationship - at work or at home - doesn't happen when everything is humming along harmoniously. Quite the contrary, it is those times of change, challenge, even disappointment that call for fierce conversations.

Giving (or receiving) difficult feedback may not be fun, but if you want to get the best out of yourself and others, you need to be relentlessly honest about the performance expectations.

How else will that underperforming team member discover that he's not up to par and take steps to correct the situation? How will your rising star stay motivated if you don't challenge her? And how will you get feedback from your peers and supervisors if you don't know how to ask for it?

Stop waiting for a performance appraisal to open the dialogue. Here are some tips to help you have fierce conversations:

•    Stop sugarcoating your feedback. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research reminds us that the purpose of feedback is make people perform better, not feel better. Use kindness and candor, but don't soft-pedal it or the criticism may get lost among the praise.

•    Cite specific behaviors rather than personality traits. "You're too shy" isn't going to help an introvert much (you think she doesn't know that already?), but saying "I'd like you to share a comment or question at our staff meeting each week so you can become more comfortable speaking up," is likely to help.

•    Role model 'relentless honesty.' When you have nothing to hide, it's not hard to be authentically transparent. Let your colleagues know you're dedicated to ongoing improvement by asking "How could I have done that better?" after a sales pitch, client meeting, or phone conference.

•    Say thank you. It's okay to ask questions for clarification, but if the feedback makes sense, don't quibble or contradict. Just say thank you and then incorporate the changes as quickly as humanly possible!