Having A Difficult Conversation? Leave Your Emotions Behind

Difficult conversations – crucial conversations – important conversations – whatever you call them, most people struggle with having them. According to one report, managers cited having a difficult conversation as the biggest challenge they face in their roles. Add to that that nearly 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees and 37% said they were uncomfortable giving direct feedback, and we have an environment in the modern workplace where people struggle with providing clear and open feedback – which makes conversations, and particularly having a difficult conversation – difficult.

So how did it become this way?

Were you taught how to have a difficult conversation at school? At home? Neither was I. Like discussion on politics, religion and sex, how to have difficult conversations wasn’t discussed at the dinner table or in polite conversations. In fact, the focus on ‘polite conversations’ probably steered most of us away from getting comfortable with difficult conversations!

So why do most difficult conversations go bad?

In short, most difficult conversations go bad because they are led by emotions. Emotions are an important part of a difficult conversations, but when they are the lead and the focus of the conversation, they are almost always doomed to fail. Why? Because most people suck as responding to other peoples emotions.

Emotions! Emotions hit like a tidal wave, and they are so overwhelming that it is difficult to see the message / the meaning / the problem that is being defined underneath them. Leading with emotions shuts down most people’s ability to actually hear the message underneath.

Emotions are powerful – and because of this they are often used as a weapon, in the moment, to bludgeon the other person into submission.

Don’t get me wrong – emotions are incredibly important in difficult conversations – some would say the most important part – but if you lead with them you may as well kiss the rest of the conversation goodbye.

Because they are so powerful, and they can catch us by surprise – both for the person saying them and the person receiving them – that they are often met with fight – or an equal and opposite set of emotions.

Fight Or Flight

The standard responses to an ‘emotions first’ approach to difficult conversations are 1. Fight, 2. Or, and 3. Flight

  1. Fight– a person leads with emotions in a difficult conversation, and you response quickly and harshly with your own emotions. Two people on the attack, not only speaking their feelings but being right ‘in’ them at the same time (What does that mean? Talking about being angry when you are also really angry). Fight responses result in very short, explosive conversations that drive a relationship backwards rather than forwards.
  2. Flight – a person leads with emotions in a difficult conversation, and the other person is overwhelmed by what they hear, can’t deal with them and walks away. The originator doesn’t feel heard or validated, and the receiver feels ambushed and set upon. Safety is the first thought of the receiver, and they retreat and escape from having to deal with the emotions expressed. Again, not productive.
  3. Or – the third response – the stunned silence. A person leads a difficult conversation with emotions and the receiver stands mute in silence. Surprised by what they have heard, struggling with their own response and not sure whether to accept or respond, the receiver stands in mute silence. For the originator, it feels like the person has paid no attention, doesn’t care or hasn’t responded. For the receiver, they may have all of the fight / flight thoughts in their head, but don’t know which way to proceed – and do nothing.

If emotions shot conversations down – how do you express them?

In our Difficult Conversations and Emerging Leaders Programs, we strongly recommend people to break down the difficult conversation into component parts.

In addition, we suggest that people instigating a difficult conversation actually ‘inoculate’ the receiver for what is coming, so that they can reduce the fight or flight response.

What is an inoculation?

It is creating the start point for a future conversation, so that people are prepared for what may come. It includes a request for a conversation, an indication on what the topic is about and an indication whether it is going to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ conversation.

Ie. ‘James – can we have a discussion later this afternoon about the report you submitted yesterday. There are some things I wasn’t happy with that I would like to discuss with you’. In this simple example, James knows – in advance – that he is going (if he accepts to the time) too have a conversation about a report (specific detail) and how someone felt about it (not happy). James knows both the topic and the feeling going into the conversation in advance, and can prepare for it. He might have a response ready – and he is less likely to fight or flight respond. Note -that doesn’t mean that he won’t – it just means he is less likely to. Inoculating the respondent for a conversation is one of the easiest way to make a difficult conversation more palatable.

So what about emotions?

To give the emotions you feel about an issue their rightful place, we don’t discuss them at the start. We include them as part of a set of perspectives, details, opinions and requests that all form part of a difficult / crucial / important conversation.

The DRIFT Model – a Template for Leading a Difficult Conversation

This process follows our IDRIFT model, where IDRIFT stands for:

  • Inoculation – Prepare the person for the conversation
  • Define – Explain the issue with facts and data
  • Repercussions – What have been the repercussions (impacts) of the issue
  • Intention – Why are you having the conversation (information? Fix something?)
  • Feelings – How do you feel about the issue? (not how you feel about the other person)
  • Timelines – what would you like to happen and when?

Following an IDRIFT model for difficult conversations not only means the person is more likely to hear what you have to say, you are more likely to get what you want / need from the conversation. Emotions have an important place in the conversation, but they aren’t the start point, nor are they the driving force of the conversation. If you want to be more successful at having difficult conversations, you need to think beyond your emotions and look at the whole conversation.


Do you struggle with difficult conversations?

Developing Leaders includes difficult conversation training in the Emerging Leaders Program, Executive Leadership Program, Leadership Essentials Program and the Performance Management Essentials and Leading Difficult Conversations workshops. The latter includes not only training in the IDRIFT principles, but multiple opportunities to practise and refine your skills in having your won difficult conversations.


Michael Peiniger is the owner and lead facilitator at Developing Leaders, focussed on developing people to become the leaders that others choose to follow. A leadership and high-performance teams expert, Michael is a highly sought after speaker, trainer and executive leadership coach who is focussed on developing leadership skills and behaviours through a practical, results driven approach. Michael can be contacted for enquiries or bookings on +61409627270 or leader@developingleaders.com.au or via his website www.developingleaders.com.au


What the Best Emerging Leaders Programs Cover in 2024

As an experienced executive leadership coach and leadership facilitator, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the transformative power of emerging leaders programs. While I know it is said almost every year, the need for effective leadership has never been greater. That’s why in 2024, the best emerging leaders programs are equipping new and established leaders in small and medium-sized businesses with the essential skills and insights they need to succeed. I have attended and reviewed dozens of Emerging Leaders Programs in 2023, and here is a glimpse of what the best Emerging Leaders Programs cover over the course of four intensive days:

  • Leadership Foundations: Every journey begins with a solid foundation, and emerging leaders programs are no exception. Participants dive deep into the fundamental principles of leadership, exploring topics such as vision-setting, goal alignment, and decision-making. By understanding the core elements of effective leadership, participants can build a strong framework for their future success.
  • Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence: True leadership starts from within. Participants engage in self-assessment exercises and emotional intelligence training to gain a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. By developing self-awareness, leaders can better regulate their emotions, navigate challenging situations, and build stronger relationships with their teams.
  • Communication and Influence: Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful leadership. Emerging leaders programs provide participants with practical strategies for communicating with clarity, empathy, and authenticity. From active listening techniques to persuasive storytelling, participants learn how to inspire and motivate others to action.
  • Team Building and Collaboration: In today’s interconnected world, the ability to collaborate effectively is essential for driving innovation and achieving results. Participants learn how to build high-performing teams, leverage diverse perspectives, and foster a culture of trust and accountability. Through experiential exercises and case studies, participants gain valuable insights into the dynamics of teamwork and collaboration.
  • Change Management and Adaptability: In an era of constant change and disruption, the ability to adapt is critical for success. Emerging leaders programs help participants develop the resilience and agility needed to thrive in uncertain environments. From leading change initiatives to managing resistance, participants learn how to navigate complex challenges with confidence and grace.
  • Strategic Thinking and Problem-Solving: Effective leaders are strategic thinkers who can anticipate trends, identify opportunities, and make sound decisions under pressure. Participants engage in strategic planning exercises and scenario analysis to hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By learning how to think strategically, leaders can position their organisations for long-term success.
  • Innovation and Creativity: In today’s competitive marketplace, innovation is the key to staying ahead of the curve. Emerging leaders programs foster a culture of innovation by encouraging participants to think outside the box, challenge the status quo, and embrace experimentation. Through brainstorming sessions, design thinking workshops, and innovation labs, participants learn how to unleash their creative potential and drive meaningful change.
  • Ethical Leadership and Corporate Social Responsibility: In an age of increasing transparency and accountability, ethical leadership is more important than ever. Participants explore the principles of ethical decision-making, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable business practices. By upholding high ethical standards, leaders can earn the trust and respect of their stakeholders while creating positive social impact.
  • Executive Presence and Personal Branding: Leadership is not just about what you do; it’s also about how you show up in the world. Emerging leaders programs help participants cultivate executive presence and build their personal brand. From mastering public speaking to enhancing their online presence, participants learn how to project confidence, credibility, and authenticity in every interaction.
  • Career Development and Mentoring: Finally, emerging leaders programs provide participants with ongoing support and guidance to help them advance their careers. From one-on-one coaching sessions to peer mentoring groups, participants receive personalised feedback and advice to help them reach their full potential. By investing in their professional development, leaders can unlock new opportunities for growth and advancement.

The best Emerging Leaders Programs in 2024 are comprehensive, immersive, and highly impactful. By covering essential topics such as leadership foundations, self-awareness, communication, team building, change management, strategic thinking, innovation, ethics, executive presence, and career development, these programs equip participants with the skills and insights they need to succeed in today’s dynamic business environment. Whether you’re an established leader looking to enhance your capabilities or a new leader eager to make your mark, an emerging leaders program can provide you with the tools and support you need to navigate the future with confidence and clarity.


Navigating Growth: 7 Signs You Need a Leadership Coach for Your Small Business

Leaders of small and medium sized businesses often find themselves wearing multiple hats, juggling myriad responsibilities to ensure success. As a small business expert and leadership coach, I understand the challenges that come with steering your ship through unpredictable business waters. One question that frequently arises is,

“How do I know if I need a leadership coach?”

In this post, I’ll explore the signs that indicate it might be the right time to invest in a leadership coach for you (and your small business).

1. Feeling Stuck or Overwhelmed:

If you’re finding it challenging to move your business forward or are constantly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decisions on your plate, it might be time for a leadership coach. A coach can provide fresh perspectives, helping you identify and overcome obstacles that may be holding back your progress. It can be incredibly hard to analysis your own strengths, weaknesses and blind spots on your own; a leadership coach can work with you on all three and help you work out where you are getting in your own way.

2. Lack of Clarity in Vision and Strategy:

Successful leaders have a clear vision and strategy for their business and for themselves. If you’re struggling to articulate your vision or are unsure about the strategic direction of your company (or yourself), a leadership coach can guide you in clarifying your goals and developing a roadmap for success.

3. Communication Challenges:

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful leadership. If you’re facing challenges in conveying your ideas to your team, experiencing breakdowns in team communication, or grappling with how to have difficult conversations with others, a leadership coach can provide valuable insights, communication strategies and opportunities to learn, practice and deliver effective communication with your team.

4. High Employee Turnover:

A revolving door of employees can be a red flag for leadership issues. A hard question to ask (and answer) on your own is – is my leadership style part of the problem?  If your team is experiencing high turnover, it’s crucial to assess your leadership style and effectiveness. A leadership coach can be open, candid, empathetic and non-judgmental – and help you identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to foster a positive and engaging workplace culture.

5. Struggling with Delegation:

Many small business owners find it difficult to delegate tasks, through fear of losing of control or just never having had to focus on it before. However, effective delegation is key to scaling a business. If you’re struggling with letting go or finding the right balance in delegation, a leadership coach can provide guidance on building a high-performing team and help you (and the team) perform more efficiently and effectively.

6. Lack of Personal and Professional Development:

Leadership is an ongoing journey of growth and learning. If you feel stagnant in your personal and professional development, a coach can help you set goals, uncover your strengths and weaknesses, and create a plan for continuous improvement that invigorates both you and the team that you lead.

7. Performance Plateau:

Did you start 2024 flatter than you ended 2023? If you or your business has hit a performance plateau or is experiencing a decline, it’s time to reassess your leadership strategies. A leadership coach can help you identify areas for improvement, develop innovative solutions, and reignite the momentum needed for growth.

Recognising the signs that you need a leadership coach is the first step toward propelling your small business to new heights. Investing in yourself as a leader not only benefits you personally but has a ripple effect on your team and the overall success of your business. A leadership coach can provide the guidance and support you need to navigate challenges, maximise your potential, and lead your small business to sustainable success.

This Sounds Like Me and My Business – What Next?

Did any of the 7 points listed above sound like you? If so, you don’t have to work through it alone! You also don’t have to jump in feet first and hire a leadership coach before you know if it will be useful (or cost effective). There are two simple and easy options to get started without a financial commitment:

  1. Book in a short discovery call with Developing Leaders. Our experienced team can discuss your needs and see if a leadership coach is the best fit for your time, team and budget.
  2. Complete a complimentary leadership assessment. The Velocity Leadership CheckPoint is Developing Leaders way of determining a leader’s strengths and areas of development. It can help you work out what specific areas you might need some help with, and whether a leadership coach is the right option to address it. It is free, easy and people say the debrief alone Wass worth completing to get started on addressing some leadership deficiencies.

Leading a small business is hard enough – there is no need to do it all on your own. Contact the team at Developing Leaders to become a leader that others choose to follow.


The Power Of 1 Word For Your Leadership In 2024

Has the start of 2024 felt like a whirlwind? Did you come back from leave feeling refreshed and focussed, or feeling a little sluggish and hoping that the first quarter would be over soon? It might sound strange, but in all honesty, I came back feeling a bit of both – busy with a myriad of tasks and yet unfocussed and looking for some inspiration?? Amidst all of the mix of emotions and activity,I have found something simple that has impacted the way I have been doing things in the last couple of weeks that has been helpful – a way for leaders to approach their role and focus back on useful activity and success: focusing on one word for your leadership for 2024.

Imagine distilling all your intentions, goals, and efforts for the next twelve months into a single, powerful word. This word becomes the guiding light that directs every decision, every action, every interaction. It’s not just a word; it’s a mantra, a philosophy, a commitment to yourself and your team.

This might sound a little bit more life a life coach and less like a leadership coach (!), but I can attest to the benefits. A fellow coach and small business owner Jenn Donovan, Professional Guest Speaker and Author put me onto this concept at the the start of year when she and asked her followers – ‘What will be your word of the year?’

But why focus on just one word? Isn’t leadership about juggling multiple responsibilities and priorities? While it’s true that leaders often have a myriad of tasks on their plate, the power of one word lies in its ability to provide clarity, focus, and alignment.

I (quietly) took Jenn’s question to heart and tried to work out what my word of the year would be, and while it took me longer than I expected (I had no idea), and ended up with one word – ‘optimise’. Why optimise? In my world and in my debriefs of our leadership profile (The Velocity Leadership CheckPoint), I discuss the difference between optimising (working up to a standard of 85% of a task) and maximising effort (striving to 100%). With many leadership behaviours, 85% is that ‘perfect’ sweet spot, whereas working to 100% can be ‘too much of a good thing’. Responsibility, commitment, accountability, empathy etc all benefit from optimising to 85% rather than maximising or striving to 100%. So in my world, to ‘optimise’ is to work to the maximum useful effort in any area, and not overwork or obsess on one thing to the detriment of others. It is about striving and balancing at the same time. Cool, huh? (Well I thought so!)

Think of it this way: if strategy is the cornerstone of effective leadership, then a single word can serve as the foundation of your approach to leadership for 2024. Whether it’s “growth,” “innovation,” “collaboration,” or “empathy,” your chosen word sets the tone for your leadership style and informs your decision-making process.

For example, imagine a leader who chooses “empowerment” as their word for the year. Every initiative, every project, and every interaction with their team is guided by the principle of empowering others to reach their full potential. This leader delegates tasks, provides opportunities for skill development, and fosters a culture of autonomy and accountability.

Focussing on a single word has changed my thoughts, behaviours and focus at work, for some very pleasing results:

  • I have let go (in most instances) of seeking perfect perfection before sending out a proposal to clients. No, it is not riddled with spelling mistakes, but previously I could hold onto a proposal for longer than needed with a little fear of ‘not getting it right’,
  • Using my subscriptions and work tools to their optimum; learning new ways of using programs and work resources that makes work easier rather than harder, and discarding old programs that are no longer needed,
  • Upgrading the software on my computer so that it was optimised and performing at its best
  • Changing my focus of overall targets and goal-setting. My goals and targets for the business year have been optimised, which is something that I have avoided until the last minute previously. ‘Optimising’ my goals actually gave me greatly clarity in setting the goals and standards, and now I have very specific targets for new clients, workshops, programs, LinkedIn connections etc that are actually driving my behaviour

I loved this idea so much I included it as part of leadership coaching sessions with clients in the last couple of weeks. Words and phrases such as ‘launch’, ‘challenge’, ‘make it work’ and ‘discover’ have set clear intentions and embody a drive and focus that wasn’t there before the task. Those words might mean little to you, but to the person focussing on it, it is driving some really focussed behaviour to some great results.

But it’s not just about setting a lofty goal; it’s about embodying that word in every aspect of your behaviour. Leadership is as much about who you are as it is about what you do. If your word is “integrity,” for instance, you must demonstrate honesty, transparency, and ethical behaviour in all your dealings.

Interacting with your team also becomes more meaningful and impactful when guided by a single word. Your word serves as a common language, a shared vision that unites individuals toward a common purpose. When everyone is aligned behind the same word, collaboration becomes more natural, communication becomes more effective, and progress becomes more tangible.

Driving success becomes more achievable when you have a clear focus. Instead of spreading yourself thin across multiple objectives, you channel your energy and resources toward a singular goal. This doesn’t mean ignoring other priorities; rather, it means prioritising based on what aligns with your chosen word.

Think of your leadership word as a filter through which you evaluate opportunities and challenges. If something doesn’t contribute to your overarching goal, you have the clarity and confidence to say no or delegate it to someone else. This disciplined approach allows you to make progress with purpose and intentionality.

Of course, choosing the right word for your leadership requires introspection, self-awareness, and a deep understanding of your values and priorities. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but rather a commitment to personal and professional growth. Take the time to reflect on what matters most to you as a leader and what you want to achieve in the coming year. For me, that is to ‘optimise’. What will ot be for you?

Once you’ve chosen your word, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with your team, your colleagues, and anyone else who plays a role in your leadership journey. Invite them to embrace the word as their own and to hold you accountable to it.

The power of one word in leadership cannot be overstated. By distilling your intentions, goals, and efforts into a single, powerful word, you gain clarity, focus, and alignment. Your chosen word becomes the foundation for your strategic approach, informs your behaviour, guides your interactions with others, and drives success. So, what will your word be? Choose wisely, and let it lead you to new ways of thinking and new results in 2024!