April 19, 2020

20. How to have tough conversations and come out on top

20. How to have tough conversations and come out on top

I had a project manager I worked with once. He had his strengths but one I particularly appreciated was his ability to have tough conversations with leadership teams and still come out smelling like roses if you catch my drift.  

I asked him how he did it and he said, Femi the mistake a lot of people make is they get too caught up in the emotion. If people have to make a decision make it a fact-based discussion. In other words, offer them the facts and then leave it to the Exec team to make the decision. The one thing you have to do is make sure you have always done your best as it pertains to your responsibility as this often moves the conversation away from making a decision to your shortcoming. 

In these tough times like the ones we are in now, you will have to have discussions with stakeholders. This could be anything from clients or suppliers who owe you or you owe money, people who lead you etc. You will have to give leaders and project sponsors uncomfortable news. You will have to change contracts. You will have to reduce payment terms. You will have to tell supplies you may not be able to meet demand. You may have to tell your boss or someone of influence that what they expected from you, is not possible to deliver anymore.

 While there is no perfect or easy way to have these conversations, here are some steps you can before and during the meeting


·       Clearly outline the deliverable and all associated information like time, cost and quality. This could include your own role if required.

·       Highlight current situation e.g. impact of COVID 19. The key here is to stay away from speculative or emotive comments and stick with the facts.

·       Outline the options available and the expected outcomes. Be prepared to share your preferred and well-informed choice of action. 

·       Leave the decision to the people with decision-making responsibility while also making clear what is achievable. The last thing we want is more ambitious unachievable targets. 

The big take away in all of this is to remember, it’s not about emotions it’s just a fact-based conversation that needs an outcome that is best for everyone. It’s about raising awareness of the factors outside your control.

It’s always better for all if we all discuss it like grown-ups, understand the impact and then agree on the best way forward rather than leaving things to fester with the inevitable finger-pointing and bad break up where we all lose money and even worse suffer reputational damage.

Having tough conversations can be hard. You feel under pressure and are worried about what you will lose. You see this is a genuine feeling but what it does is puts you in a pressure place that you underperform and lose anyway. That’s why a fact-based conversation is important.