Wendy and I hosted our second Leadership Accelerator workshop on Friday, November 18th, at the HQ at CNX and had the opportunity to work with some amazing local leaders. One of the themes that we consistently heard about throughout the day was how to have respectful and meaningful difficult conversations – particularly when giving feedback on behaviors or skills.

So, that got us thinking . . . Why do we fear difficult conversations? Is it that we have yet to experience difficult conversations with strong positive outcomes? Are we afraid of damaging the relationships with the individual we want to share the feedback with?

The “BUT” Sandwich

I am sure many of us have experienced the “BUT” sandwich, where we are told we are really great “BUT” … we need to change something. This conversation isn’t very motivating, and if we get this type of feedback often, we won’t trust what comes before the “BUT.”

Rephrasing or changing the structure of the conversation can have a more positive outcome since difficult feedback is necessary to build stronger, deeper relationships with folks we work with daily.

The best way to approach a difficult conversation is to prepare and approach the conversation at a time that works for both parties. Preparing for the conversation is essential. It is important to think through the “WHAT” and “WHY”, “HOW” it impacted you or others, and create a space for discussion to understand others’ perspectives.

The preparation process:

  1. Think about a specific example to share that demonstrates the behavior or skill that needs to change. The intention is to talk about how you want to help them learn and grow.
  2. Impact. Ask questions to understand their motivation. What was their intention? What impact did the behavior have on others? Why isn’t it working? It is important to hear all points of view.
  3. Co-develop a solution. Discuss ideas that can be implemented together, gather their points of view, and work together to co-create an action plan that is specific and measurable.
  4. Set up a time for follow-up. This will reinforce the commitment to the change and show you’re invested in their development.
  5. Thank them. Thank them for their time and openness to the conversation.

The best partnerships are those of balance, where we give and take advice and perspective, allowing us to grow from it.

When we show our commitment to the partnership/relationship, it opens the door to sharing both positive and constructive feedback to strengthen it.

Find the individuals that will help you develop this skill and give you the right advice and direction to build your confidence in having difficult conversations.


Join us in our Nonprofit Sidekick community to learn more about difficult conversations and the power of building meaningful partnerships. We hope to see you there!

As a bonus, we’re offering special pricing now through the end of the year! Pricing will increase in the new year.