April 15, 2015

One of the most important facets of candor is delivery. Yes, truthful words are important, but delivery is equally important in a candid conversation. Delivery includes everything from timing and location, to body language and context. Remember the famous courtroom scene from the movie “A Few Good Men”? It’s a classic example of poor delivery of the truth.

Throughout my career, I have heard countless stories of tough conversations. In the majority of these cases, the recipient has described the conversation as awful because of the way it was delivered, not because of the actual topic or outcome.

Most recently, a friend shared a story in which he received tough news and related that the delivery was the “worst part.” The conversation was not concise, direct or honoring; rather, he felt like it was abrupt, rude and diminishing. And it was held in a public place, as part of a lunch meeting. In the end, my friend admits the outcome was for the best and has opened up tremendous opportunity, but he struggled to realize that at the time because of the poor delivery.

There are several reasons the delivery in a tough conversation may fail:

  • Perhaps the speaker is most concerned with their own feelings instead of being respectful of the recipient’s feelings.
  • Or, they have been stewing on something and have decided they “just have to get it off their chest.”
  • Maybe they are protecting themselves or making it easier on themselves.
  • Possibly, they believe they are being caring, protecting the recipient from a worse situation in the future.
  • And often, they can’t see the possibility of a good outcome for the recipient and this makes the speaker feel inept and uncomfortable.

In any case, regardless of the topic, managing the delivery – including the context and circumstances, the location and timing, and the verbal and nonverbal cues – is a crucial piece in leading tough conversations. Let’s spend as much time working on the process and the practice of honoring our partner in any conversation as we do worrying about how it will feel for us.