How to Have Hard Conversations with Positive Intent as a Small Business Owner

August 25, 2022

By EFund Expert Network provider Barb Bengtson, owner of Perception Coaching

When things don’t go according to plan, facilitating a constructive discussion can be stressful and difficult. As challenging as it may be, it's important that entrepreneurs face these hard conversations to productively meet the unprecedented challenges in today’s business climate.

Two of the most common challenges faced in small business today are production challenges and staffing issues. Below are techniques and considerations to meet challenges and facilitate a hard conversation with positive intent.

1. Navigating Current Production Challenges

Production challenges due to shipping delays, increased prices, and other acquisition problems are challenging our ability to provide customers quality products or services in a timely manner.

When suppliers or other partners do not meet expectations, frustration is easily triggered. We feel wronged, our self-righteous indignation leads us to focus on what should have happened. The quickest way to relieve tension and move to productivity is to respond to triggers with kindness and grace; add positivity where anger or disappointment are expected. Rather than focusing on what went wrong, move the conversation to what is going right, and what needs to happen to make the best of the current situation.

It's easier to do this when we adopt the attitude Everyone is doing their best. Then, if the best falls short, focus goes on what needs to happen to make the best better. Productive response styles include a focus on solutions, and can be achieved with questions such as:

  • What can we do to prevent this in the future?
  • Do timelines need to be adjusted and communicated?
  • Should resources be reallocated?
  • Do alternatives need to be found?

Seeking solutions gets results more efficiently than dwelling on shortcomings. Not only that, but the strength of your partnership also grows with the collaborative effort.

2. Supporting Your Staff

Supporting your staff in our quickly changing work environment is difficult; priorities are often unclear as processes, needs, and leadership adjust to new norms.

Getting everyone on the same page through change is challenging, especially when goals and expectations are in the process of being clarified. Schedule brief weekly check-ins with direct reports to find the pulse of your organization. By hearing about their needs and accomplishments, you can better support and guide staff through change.

In times of stress, demonstrating appreciation for efforts while supporting growth and improving performance requires authentic, compassionate navigation. You can provide effective feedback more naturally by adopting the attitude Everyone matters. To improve productivity in your organization, discover talents and needs and support performance for all staff. Lead with positive intent; this means conversations and feedback benefit the receiver. You are clear that their growth is key to their success and is an important contribution to the success of the organization. There are many ways to enrich feedback you give, such as:

  • Start by asking about their favorite part of their work.
  • Find out what they feel they do well.
  • Tell them about a time you saw a talent in action.
  • Ask what they need to succeed.

Leading with positive intent requires a perspective shift in the traditional feedback process; it is an act of compassion that enhances performance because it helps you understand the individual so you can more effectively support their productivity and well-being.

Be Proactive to Prevent Challenges

Whether you are amid difficult change, or having your best year, use these strategies to proactively reduce and prevent challenges. Implement a check-in routine to be sure all staff have a leader that connects with them. This valuable investment makes feedback more efficient and effective, while providing an early alert for concerns and needs throughout your organization. When difficult issues are discovered, you have tools to respond productively and with compassion before they become disruptive. When you lead with positive intent and demonstrate that everyone matters you build trust and the capacity of your workforce and future challenges are identified earlier and navigated effectively.

Engaging in difficult conversations, responding productively, and leading with positive intent are effective ways to relieve tension, empower compassion, and continue your mission to serve customers.

The ideas above provide entrepreneurs and small business owners strategies to adapt and be well-positioned to improve civility and workplace satisfaction in this environment of increasing tensions.

Meet EFund Expert Barb Bengtson

Barb Bengtson, PhD, is a consulting psychologist who specializes in well-being, productivity and innovation through talent development and effective communication strategies. She is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and is certified in MHS measures of emotional intelligence (EQ-i 2.0 and EQ360). Barb owns Perception Coaching, based in Duluth, MN.  

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