Tough Conversations: Can They Also Be Compelling?

Posted by IMEC on Jul 29, 2019 7:57:00 AM

This is an original article from the American College of Healthcare Executives.

"Holding a tough conversation is not a task for the timid. There is an art to doing it to complete, not compete." Lynne S. Cunningham, MPA, FACHE and Coach with the Studer Group.


Think back to a time when someone shared something so compelling, you were engaged, attentive and present. You wanted to listen. Now think of an equally difficult conversation. Chances are, it was an entirely different experience altogether. But did it have to be? Can tough conversations, especially in the workplace, also be compelling?

To Lynne S. Cunningham, FACHE, compelling conversation implies action will be taken that will help the person communicating achieve the desired results. It stands to reason, then, that even tough conversations could be experienced as compelling, if they engage the listener and lead to a successful result.

In her book, Taking Conversations from Difficult to Doable: 3 Models to Master Tough Conversations, Cunningham starts the very first chapter establishing trust as the key ingredient to successful outcomes.  She states: “Tough conversations—more specifically, tough conversations with successful outcomes—don’t just happen. They’re built on an important framework of interlocking prerequisites, the first of which is trust. For trust to exist, two people must have a positive relationship. And for a positive relationship to be in place, solid communications must be present.”

The process of developing solid communications and building trust takes time, and in that time, tough conversations will inevitably need to happen. While these can make even the most successful executive uncomfortable, Cunningham believes there is an art to executing tough conversations well.

In her post on The Studer Group’s Insights Blog, Cunningham recommends keeping this phrase in mind: Seek to complete, not compete. She goes on to explain that, so often, we enter tough conversations wanting to prove our point or simply be right (compete), which affects our tone and demeanor, and how what we’re saying is received.  Instead, focusing on a positive outcome for all parties (complete) goes a long way towards a productive exchange. She says: “It should not be about punishing, embarrassing or putting the person ‘in their place.’ Conversations like this will absolutely fail.”

Cunningham offers three tips to help ensure that conversations complete vs. compete. These simple and effective tips also go a long way towards creating a feeling of being cared for in a conversation, which in turn, helps establish trust.

  • Ease into the topic, by beginning with something positive or neutral, so the other person is not immediately put on the defensive.
  • Use “Yes, and…” instead of, “Yes, but…” to avoid diminishing compliments. For example, “Bob, you did a great job of handling Peter’s outburst yesterday, and keeping your own temper even keel will help situations like that even more in the future.”
  • Speak respectfully, especially when disagreeing. Respect and trust go hand-in-hand, especially in making employees feel cared for and safe.

When conversations are conducted in a trusting and safe manner, individuals are more likely to engage, listen and take action, which means even tough conversations can be positive and compelling.

Read the full article.

For more information, contact IMEC at or 888-806-4632.


Written by IMEC

Topics: human resources, Leadership, communication

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