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Leadership, Staff Development

Don’t Procrastinate Feedback

During a leadership development workshop for senior officers, a CEO shared that he had initiated a feedback dialogue with his staff by applying the technique taught the day before. He told us that he had postponed and avoided giving feedback for this staff for many weeks, even though he sensed that his colleague was expecting to hear from him. The staff cried during the feedback session – not because he got scolded by his boss – because he was moved by his boss’ initiative and words.

Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Is Group Coaching Possible?

Coaching is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person to be his or her very best.

Some months ago, the managing director of an MNC approached me to develop a team of four operations managers with some people and management skills. Three of them were promoted recently but have not had any formal leadership training. This is not unusual as we see this happen over and over again. He also shared that he would like me to conduct a one-on-one coaching for one of his managers. He wanted me to develop her leadership skills and especially her openness to change. However, the MD was afraid that this manager, let’s call her JJ, was not receptive to such intervention. We discussed and developed the plan to start with group coaching for his team of managers. This way, the one-on-one coaching for JJ could be “sold” as a logical next step after the group coaching experience.

Group Coaching for Building Trust

Group Coaching - Creating a Team to the Benefit of the Individual

Group Coaching – Creating a Team to the Benefit of the Individual

I adopted a structured approach, with predetermined content, a fix number of 3 hour sessions on a monthly basis. We started by agreeing on basic ground rules such as punctuality, confidentiality and commitment. During each session, I would cover a certain topic such as communication, feedback techniques, problem solving methodology or coaching for performance to equip these managers with practical skills and some tips out of my personal backpack. The session typically started by inviting each individual to share their own experience and, of course, issues encountered under the respective topic. Since the team was very small, it was easy to ensure everyone’s participation in the discussion and sharing. Our session did not end without agreeing on a commitment related to the topic and some preparation for the next meeting.

The first meeting was key for the success since I needed to get to know each one of them. And, it was carefully designed in a rather teaching than coaching manner since the managers needed to get comfortable with the process and with me, the coach. Being comfortable with each other does in no way imply trust. The group took a while to “warm up” to me. Only by the fourth meeting, I could see some results. Especially their commitment for trying out new behaviours at work had grown over time. Slowly, it became easier to discuss some rather personal topics. I recognised that is was of great importance to deliberate such topics in the group because they slowly built trust not only to me but even with each other.

Moving to Individual Coaching

JJ was holding back in the first 2 sessions. Only during the third session, she started to participate in the debate and even offered her own encounters on tackling some issues raised by her colleagues. By then, I could also sense that the other managers became more relaxed with her. I saw a growing trust and camaraderie among them. A matured leadership team who was able to use the collective wisdom of the group started to emerge.

At the same time, I recognised that each of the four was progressing at a different speed. I felt that I needed to give more space for some of them to speak, whereas the others were ready to move on. And, I was constrained by the available time. I did not want to jeopardise focus and fluidity of the session.
I discussed with the group and agreed that the remaining two meetings were to be done on a one-on-one basis. By then, all of them were very open to the idea and had no reservations whatsoever. The recently completed 360-degree leadership assessment came in as a great help for discussion. After the warm-up phase through the group coaching, it was very easy to work even with JJ on a one-on-one basis to come up with a personal development plan. We certainly had the coach-able moment.

JJ moved me with her parting words:

To be very honest, Amy, at the beginning I tried to avoid this coaching because I was not comfortable at all to go through this. And, I did not expect anything positive for myself. Now, I have to admit that this coaching did not only help me in my job, it improved my relationship with the other managers – we have a very good communication now, we have trust. Even our boss seems to react to what we shared with him about our learnings. Thank you very much.


Group coaching can benefit organisations and individuals (coachees) in many ways. Such benefits of group coaching for individuals include:

  • Peer Learning: some coachees may prefer a collaborative learning environment where they learn from the insights and contributions of peers. For coachees who are more introverted, the peer learning process may feel “less intimidating”. And, it provides more time for reflection and articulation of their insights.
  • Build Teaming Skills: setting aside time together for learning helps the group to deepen trust and collaboration among peers and across departments. At the same time coachees gain an understanding of the issues, motivations and intentions of colleagues and stakeholders. It also improves interpersonal support skills such as listening, questioning, coaching and feedback.

Benefits of group coaching for the organisation seem to be:

  • Cross-functional Exchange and Support for Culture Change: the conversations which ensue often create a web of relationships across teams. This leads to opportunities for the exchange of ideas and different perspectives across seemingly disparate groups. The new relationships often provide an important vehicle for culture change.
  • Return on Investment: many organisations have recognised the benefits of group coaching as a follow-on support to learning initiatives. It especially helps employees to apply what they have learnt and share feedback.
  • Scalability: For some organisations with an established or an evolving coaching culture, scalability is a key benefit of the group coaching approach. It can support cascading involvement of employees at all levels. For example, organisations may look to create group coaching for new managers or offer group coaching program to sustain the network & conversation after a training initiative.
Competency, Enablers, Staff Development

Manager as Coach

Coaching is a powerful style of leadership for developing people and enhancing business performance. Especially, with the rapid changes at workplaces, keeping employees’ committed and motivated during tough economic times seems like a tall task, especially after downsizing or programme cutbacks. Hence, it is evident that the very survival and success of any organisation depends on the human capital: people are highly knowledgeable, versatile, innovative and mobile. And, their skills and talents are the currency of competitiveness, and companies who hope to retain their services need to recognise that these individuals expect greater personal choice, autonomy and an active voice in the management of their workplace. A good coach knows that.

Coach is Helping Others to be Their very Best

Being a Coach is Helping Others to be Their very Best

The days of the command-and-control style of leadership are long over. Hence, leaders are required to engage the energy and thoughts of their teams in order to make them commit totally to a given course of action. Moreover, the process of coaching is ongoing and lifelong as learning is one of the few activities that one must frequently be engaged in as leaders sustain competitiveness through people development.

My experience is clear: If leaders get feedback, follow-up, and involve their co-workers in the change process, they get better. Marshall Goldsmith

Coaching as Part of Personal Mastery

For managers wishing to acquire confidence as a coaching manager, practicing feedback skills, both giving and receiving, is a good place to start.

Firstly we need to know more about ourselves, i.e. attain greater self-awareness. Because it is only when we can see ourselves as others are seeing us that we can interact effectively with others. As a manager and an individual, we need to improve personally as well. So, being able to ask for and receive feedback is extremely important. Many people miss the chance to improve themselves because they don’t know how to ask for feedback. Worse, when feedback is given, they may not know how to handle it.

Secondly, we need to learn how to help others to be successful. As a manager, we achieve success only when our people are successful. If we can develop them further, they will be even more productive and will contribute greater to the business. Thus, by being able to give feedback effectively, a manager contributes to continuous improvements in his colleagues. Teams and individuals that regularly receive useful inputs that they can then act upon will operate more purposefully and effectively.

How to Coach – the Coaching Style

Understanding Coaching: Coaching helps you to bring out the potential in your staff. The coaching process closes the gap between individuals’ or teams’ present level of performance and the desired one. This can happen within a single coaching session, or over a long cycle of sessions. As a coach-manager, you will develop your staff by mutually assessing performance, discussing the present situation, defining achievable goals, exploring new initiatives, and supporting your coachee in his plan of action. Coaching refers both to specific skills and encouragement of long-term development.

Why coaching: By coaching, managers release their own time, improve staff’s performance and enhance productivity of their organisations. Hence, coach and delegate more, and supervise less, to boost productivity and help team members fulfil their potential.

Selecting a coaching style: Sometimes people like clear directions and definite answers to their question. At times, we want to be involved in a dialogue about our own development and goals. Select the style most appropriate for the coachee.

  • Dominant (D) – Do As I tell you, do as I do
  • Influencing (i) – You can do it!
  • Steady/Sympathetic (S) – Do this better, what do you think?
  • Controlling (C) – Figure it out this way and why?

How to Communicate – the Communication Style

Our own personality characteristics regarding interacting with others influence and determine our style of coaching (DiSC). Our coaching style defines the way we communicate with our coachee. There are four communication styles for coaches: Amiable, Expressive, Driver and Analyst

  • Amiable: The amiable communication style tends to lead people by caring for others, providing support, and talking about the past.
  • Expressive: The expressive communication style tends to lead people by sharing ideas, concepts or theories, seeing all possibilities, motivating, inspiring, and focusing on coachee’s future.
  • Driver: The driver communication style tends to lead people by focusing on action, getting right to the point, and not wanting to wait.
  • Analyst: The analyst communication style tends to lead people by staying focused on facts, information, rules, and established procedures.
  • Developing coaching relationship: Autonomy, initiative, decisiveness and a sense of ownership for one’s work are essential for effective professionals. Encourage and develop these qualities in your staff to make them more receptive to a coaching approach. Treating them as partners fosters commitment and enterprise rather than compliance.

How to Coach – the Coaching Model

Initiating coaching: The first steps in the coaching cycle lay the foundations for its likely success. Be clear about when to start coaching, and how to structure and follow up a session. Coaching can be spontaneous or formal. It can be given on a one-off basis or can work long-term over many sessions. It may be requested by the coachee, or called for by the coach. The setting is important. There should be a sense of trust and mutual respect between both parties. Both parties should feel at ease in each other’s presence. Choose a quiet place and schedule sessions regularly for follow-up.

Using GAINS model: The GAINS model is a structured and simple way to shape and organise the coaching session.


Agree on a goal, make it specific and as SMART as possible

“I would like to improve my communication with my Director. I hope I will be more comfortable walking into his office and give him update or even feedback about his behaviour and leadership style, by end of this year.”


Help them understand what the current situation is. Between goal and assessment is the gap.

“Presently, whenever I see him, I just have the fear and can’t utter a word. I do not know why, even though my other colleagues have no problem.”


Explore possible actions to bridge the gap. What are some obstacles to consider?

“I thought of inviting him for lunch, and give him feedback over lunch. But I am afraid he may dominate the conversation or get angry with me. My colleagues have been hoping that I can do something about it since his leadership style has been affecting everyone’s morale. I really do not know how I should approach it. Another idea which I thought of is to go to his boss but I guess I will do it only if I do not intend to continue in this job…”

Next Steps

Aggress on actions to be taken.

“Okay, I will make appointment with his PA to have lunch together. I will not talk about the hot potatoes during the first lunch meeting. The first meeting shall be my first relationship building step, to gain his trust and to start talking with him.”


Offer support to coachee, and enable coachee to take responsibility and commit to achieving the goal.

“Can I try out with you first? Can you be my boss?”

Coaching moves people from awareness to responsibility to action and results. If there are no actions and results, the coaching is not considered effective.

Coaching is Giving Support

Finally, the last part in developing people or leading people to be more effective toward higher performance is that managers need to be supportive. Two aspects of the supportive model are the skill and knowledge support (can do) and motivation support (will do). Therefore, managers and coachees need to jointly work on and identify the clues by asking the following questions:

  1. What is the obstacle?
  2. Which competencies are missing?
  3. What is the symptom of the obstacles?
  4. Which opportunities for development present themselves?


Most of us have had at least one good boss in our work history. And, we believe these bosses may possess some competencies of a good coach. Here are the top 10 competencies of a good coach.

A coach is

  1. highly competent in establishing relationships,
  2. a creator of ‘coachable’ moments,
  3. a quick reader of human context,
  4. a masterful contextual listener,
  5. a masterful facilitator of discovery,
  6. a ‘laser’ articulator of information,
  7. an efficient and effective gap delineator and bridger,
  8. a ‘stretch’ requestor,
  9. a consciously competent celebrator of human accomplishment and
  10. the best of being teacher, trainer, facilitator, advisor, coach, mentor or leader depending on the needs of the individual


In conclusion, to be a good coach is hard work. Hence, it takes a lot of practice and requires continuous self-development. However, the journey as a coach is a long but rewarding one. How will we know when we have arrived?

With the best of leaders, When the work is done, The project is completed,
The people all say, ‘We did it ourselves.’ Lao Tzu


BPR, Competency, Innovation, Leadership, Staff Development

Cultivating an Improvement and Innovation Mindset

Working with management teams of our clients often takes them away from their business for a few days. They frequently get in touch with their teams at home. Sometimes I involuntarily eavesdrop their part of the conversation. “How is it going? Is everything ok?” are common questions they ask their teams. When they get some kind of “yes” they seem satisfied.

Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Recognising The Coach-able Moment

In a coaching or mentoring relationship, finding the right moment for performing the coaching is critical. Often, coaching attempts go wrong because the moment is just not right. But, how do you know whether you are at a coachable-moment? Just ask yourself whether you have the right essentials for coaching someone: A sincere intention, a good relationship and suitable words.

What is your Intention for Coaching Someone?

Coaching Essentials: The Coach-able Moment

The Coach-able Moment

Having the right intention for coaching is paramount for success. Showing off your own capability and telling your staff that he is not there yet is the worst setting for coaching. A hidden agenda will surface sooner or later and will break any trust for a long time. Similarly, giving feedback to your staff immediately after a sub-optimal performance may not be in the best interest of the both of you. If you need to let off steam, because your staff has just tarnished your polished image in-front of others, stop here. It is a safe assumption that he did not do it intentionally and will perform much better next time – after your constructive feedback given at a later stage, when you are more relaxed and free from potentially hurting emotions.

After Jerry was done with his presentation about DiSC to one of our important clients, I felt the urge to tell him that I did not like his arrogant style of delivery, talking down to the audience. Although, it was clear to everyone that he knew his stuff, he could have brought it across in a nicer way. After all, Jerry was younger than most of the clients in the room and he did not know anything about DiSC until a year ago, when I started to teach and coach him. I was about to take him aside and tell him one or two things about his station in life … but I was stopped by my partner, who knew exactly what was about to happen. Today, I can easily admit that I was in no mood to give any constructive feedback, let alone good coaching.

After all, coaching is the process of letting someone know that you care about him. (Practical Coach)

What is your Relationship with your Coachee?

Your relationship with your coachee plays an essential role for selecting the right moment, the coach-able moment, and especially the right words for coaching. Whereas it is nearly impossible to perform any coaching for someone whom you meet the first time, all other types of association allow effective coaching. Be it a good friend whom you want to help or be it your staff or your mentee you want to support and see the person grow professionally.

Trust is the basis of the relationship. Building a trusting relationship requires sufficient time and dedicated effort. Sometimes we’re tempted to hurry the process or neglect this stage altogether. When we do, we deny ourselves out of the valuable coaching experience and decrease the likelihood of success.

I did not spend enough time to build relationship with Jerry since he joined, because he has been on telecommuting and we only meet when we are at client’s site. If I had set aside time to build rapport with Jerry, my feedback to him about his delivery of this DISC session would have been much easier. And, he would trust what I say to him.

Remember, coaching is about caring for someone and developing them. When you have a supportive relationship, you can speak your mind freely. You already know that the other person will see the positive intention in your words, independently of whether they agree or not.

Which Words Should be Used to Give Feedback?

“Eh how come your hair is so messy? You are so busy till you never have no time to cut your hair, ah?” is a personal message you only pass to a very good friend who trusts you a lot.

Our language is full of words that have a disempowering effect. As a basic rule, turning our words and phrases into a positive notion will help to gain acceptance for feedback without hurting the coachee.

“Why are you always late for meetings. You have to be on time” is a strong message in a disempowering language spoken with the typical Singapore word “always”.

Firstly, avoid “always” and “never” when you give feedback. Hardly anyone is that bad.

Secondly, turn retrospective blame “Why are you always late for meetings?” into prospective good behaviour with “What can you do to contribute to our meetings in future?” Discovery questioning is a powerful, forward-looking technique that avoids one party losing face and emphasises solutioning rather than blaming.

Thirdly, don’t generalise feedback. Link it to a certain situation so that all ambiguity and with it the dispute about it is limited. State Situation – Behaviour – Impact (SBI) like in

“Yesterday for our meeting with our clients, you arrived 15 minutes after the stated start time. I am concerned, this has presented an unprofessional image to our clients.”


Coaching is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person be his or her very best. Do try to use the above tips to create the coachable moment before you coach.

Read also: The Best Coach I Ever Had

Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Revisiting Management by Walking About (MBWA)

MBWA - Management by walking about

Management by walking about

Some twenty years ago, just after I was hired by General Electric Capital and tasked to implement something as strange to a bank as continuous improvement in their newly acquired, yet dusty German banking environment, life was not walk in the park anymore. Gaining the skills for the new job with the help of the outstanding GE Capital people development engine was challenging but rewarding.

Putting these skills to work was the real test. Even the nice title as director and AVP did not help much, when I needed to “sell” the idea of improving and innovating the business to fellow directors who were already doing great. More often than not, I found myself having nice frameworks on great PowerPoint pitches but no clue how to approach them. A real hard nut to crack seemed to be our Sales Director, Gerald.

Immediately after I joined, Esther, our HR Director appeared at my office. I thought, something bad must have happened. Why else does the HR Director pop up in my office. No, there was nothing. And, some minutes after she left I had already forgotten what the chat was about. I thought, she was checking on the rookie. And, I disliked this encounter since I did not like people checking on me and I certainly did not enjoy small talk. To my surprise, Esther came back again and again. Nearly every week she sat in my office to have a chat. This was her way of management by walking about. How annoying.

vocOne day, I thought I put her to a test and explained my problem with approaching Gerald to her. This was my try to turn small talk into something useful for me. And, I wanted to find out whether there was more than just hot air. To my surprise she immediately knew what I was talking about and she seemed prepared for this conversation.

She started with a series of questions that appeared to be back to small talk again. Questions to find out what I knew about Gerald. There was not much. She offered some information about Gerald to me. I learned about his favourite football club FC Cologne, his kids, their age, their hobbies etc. Everything was new to me. She nailed the conversation with a hint: “Wait until FC Cologne wins and then approach Gerald. But make sure you talk football before you get to your points.”

I did. It worked. The project Gerald and I started in Sales together was so successful, that our project leaders had to present it to the GE Capital HQ in Stamford, Connecticut.

During one of the following “small talks” with Esther, she coached me on how to build relationship with people of different personalities. I easily understood why, on the outset, it was hard for me to talk with Gerald.

And, I learned that Esther did not have any agenda when she did her tours through the office. She listened to employees and watched processes in order to find development needs. Usually, she did not offer solutions. But she offered a questioning technique that brought us to discover solutions on our own. She was providing coaching to us as a true Employee Champion.

Esther took proactive effort to listen, empathise and understand the employees’ and management’s needs, indirectly she increased our commitment and capabilities. For me, the rather useless small talk had turned into a quality conversation – after I was able to open up, after developing some trust. I learned to value our partnership. In retrospective, I have to admit that a good portion of my success at GE was due to Esther’s intervention, the informal chat and especially her listening ear. I was lucky enough to meet a few more Esthers in my professional life whom I owe a lot. These mentors are not necessarily our bosses. They are just people who care about us.

Coaching is the process of letting people know, what they do matters to you.

Practical Coach, MPC

key-learningsOver the years, I tried to adopt some of their coaching techniques like Management by Walking About and I certainly got some small success stories. And, I recognised that it is usually much easier to be excellent in my subject matters than in people management. However, the only mistake is to stop trying.

And, what about you? Are you doing your MBWA? Why not?

Career Development, Enablers, Staff Development

Take Care of Your Talent – Or Someone Else Will

Recently, I had coffee with Edward, an old friend – or better: one of my mentors. He is approaching seventy and yet is in the pink of health. So I asked whether he plays golf 24/7. His response came a bit as a surprise.

“My company still needs me – so I am re-employed. Full time. This means there is not much time for golf,” he said with a sour smile.

I know he loves his job and it certainly tickles his ego knowing that he is still needed. But, I would have expected him to slow down a bit and enjoy what he has been working for all those years.

Edward explained “Well, I guess we did not really think hard enough about my succession. The guy we had in mind left to join a competitor and all the others are not ready yet. And, I am not the only one from the old guard who is facing this predicament. We would be in a much better position if we would have had a talent management program in place instead of just talking about it from time to time. Not only would we have my designated successor still on board, we would also have made better hiring decisions. The people we hired are good in what they do. However, they don’t seem to have the potential to move up. We have hired for today without having tomorrow in mind.”

Career Development, Enablers, Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Difficult Conversations – Keeping Mentoring Relationships on Track

The Quality of a Relationship relies on the Quality of the Conversation.

At some point in a mentoring relationship, the need for a difficult conversation will arise. Whereas every conflict is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice, there tend to be patterns to what goes wrong, and what helps. Every difficult conversation has three different dialogues that occur simultaneously. The What-Happened dialogue, the Feelings dialogue and the Identity dialogue. As you prepare for a meeting with your mentor/mentee, consider asking yourself some simple questions in order to navigate through these three dialogues.

1. Difficult Conversation – The “What Happened?” Dialogue

The first part of the conversation is about the context and content. Who said what, who did what? Who intended what? What did you each contribute to the problem? This question focuses on three main areas:

Understanding Each Other’s Story

A Difficult Conversation Keeps a Mentoring Relationship on Track

Difficult Conversations Keep Mentoring Relationships on Track

Cultivate the attitude of discovery and curiosity. We often get stuck thinking that our story is “right” and their story is “wrong,” when in fact there is almost always some reasonable basis for both sides’ stories. Explore each other’s stories, instead of attacking his/hers and defending yours. Your goal is to tell the story in such a way that the third party might say, “Wow, that view makes a lot of sense.” Note: As you try to do this, you’ll notice yourself thinking things like, “Yeah, but they’re wrong,” or “That’s their view, but it’s not justified.” This kind of thoughts are natural. But remember, they don’t think they’re wrong. Your goal is to understand their view as they understand it. Understanding their view does not mean you agree with it, or that you have to give up your view.

Sorting out Contributions

Just as it takes two to tango, most problems stem from things both sides said or did. With a few important exceptions, it is rarely helpful to assign blame for what went wrong. What is more helpful is to explore what each side contributed to the problem at hand. The purpose of exploring what each person has contributed is to better understand the past, and plan ways to change interactions in the future.

Disentangling Intent and Impact

We are in the habit of demonising others’ intentions and sanitizing our own: “If he did something that hurt me, it is because he meant to. If I did something that hurt him, it was an unintended consequence – I had good intentions!”

As a rule for life we should always assume that there is no one waking up in the morning with the intention of hurting someone else.

2. Difficult Conversation – The Feelings Dialogue

This part involves the feelings each person in the conversation is grappling with. What should you do with these feelings? Should you tell them how you feel? And what about their feelings? What if they become angry, or start to cry? What will you do then?

My Feelings

Make a list of some of your feelings regarding what has happened. Common feelings include anger, frustration, hurt, shame, confusion, fear, anxiety, and loneliness. Many conversations also involve feelings that are considered positive, but which are nonetheless difficult to manage or express. These include joy, pride, and love. Which feelings are hardest for you to express, and why?

Their Feelings

Make a list of what you imagine the other person might be feeling. Which of these feelings are hardest for you to hear, and why?

Note: Being aware of your feelings does not mean you have to express your feelings. Simply being aware of them is helpful to recognise how you think about the situation and the conversation. If you do choose to share your feelings, be careful to express feelings and not your judgments about the other person. For example, if you feel that you are rejected by the team, say “I feel that I am not accepted by the team,” instead of “Why are you rejecting me?” The difference between the two is crucial: the first invites conversation, the second invites an argument.

3. Difficult Conversation – The Identity Dialogue

This is the conversation you have with yourself, about yourself. It is the conversation that asks, “What does this all say about me? Am I a good person? Loveable? Competent?”

My Self-Image

Conversations are difficult because they often threaten some part of our identity. We see ourselves as competent, generous, or fair, so anything that challenges that notion of ourselves knocks us off balance. Recognise what is at stake for you, but also “complexify” your image of yourself so that all does not hang in the balance of this one conversation (i.e. even if in this situation you have in fact behaved irresponsibly, it does not necessarily make you an irresponsible person. Think of other times when you have acted responsibly).

Their Self-Image

What identity issues might you be triggering for them in the conversation? Are they reacting because they hear you calling them an incompetent professional, insensitive manager?

Choosing My Purpose

Too often, we enter a difficult conversation without a clear purpose, or we adopt purposes we cannot control – like changing them or persuading them. Only they can decide to change or be persuaded, so this sets us up for frustration.

My purposes for having a conversation. Make a list of those things you would like to get out of the conversation. In doing so, consider three purposes that are helpful for almost any difficult conversation:

  • Learning: Listen first to understand, then to be understood. You almost never know everything you need to know about the situation. Seek out the pieces of the puzzle you do not have.
  • Expression: You are an unparalleled expert on you. So, speak for yourself and how you are experiencing the problem and what impact it has on you. Consider sharing your perspective, interests, feelings, and requests.
  • Problem-Solving: You take the lead. Once you have listened to their views and expressed your own, then you should proceed to problem solving. Ask: “Can we find a way to move forward that works for both of us?”

Prepare an Opening Line

Think in advance about how you might begin the conversation. One useful way to go is to set forth your purposes, so you might say: “I would like to hear your thoughts on this problem and express my own. Then I think we should take some time to problem solve. Does that make sense to you as a way to spend the conversation?”


A difficult conversation will always be part of the relationship with your mentee/mentor – as they are part of life. Even if your difficult conversation does not go well, you can review the tips above and ask yourself what you might try differently next time. Many difficult conversations are held over a period of time. While there will be ups and downs, eventually – with some thought and preparation – mutual understanding often increases and some learning takes place. This gives you the best chance for relationships to deepen and for problems to be solved.


Douglas Stone: Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, 2000.

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