Week One: Critical Conversations

Intro to Critical Conversations

Why Conversations Matter

Essential Conversations

Today managers have multiple roles - leader, mentor, coach, confidante. Building relationships and the skills to be effective for each is essential.

Why Coaching is So Important in Business Today

Managing today is more challenging than it has been in the past. Gone are the days when you can just tell your employees what to do.  Things change quickly and our work is increasingly complex. To be successful you need to enable employees to make their own decisions, develop their own capabilities and make good decisions that are aligned with the direction you set.  If you dont’ they will keep coming to you for answers instead of finding their own solutions.  We all know what it feels like to be in that trap! 

Success requires that you get really good at being a coach, providing useful feedback and make time for Conversations that Matter.  That is what we are going to work on together in this course. 

What You Will Learn in this Module

You will learn and practice how to improve your coaching capabilities:

  • Essential Communication Skills 

  • Shifting into growth mindset

  • Asking questions that engage and invite dialogue

  • Giving feedback that your employees will ‘hear” and apply

  • Using coaching frameworks to prepare for conversations

  • Engaging your employees and fostering independence

  • Making time for conversations that matter

  • Dealing with difficult or uncomfortable conversations

  • Customizing your approach

Being a Coach

What is Coaching?

There are many definitions of coaching. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as:

Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Coaching is:

  • A process and partnership that allows you to accelerate forward.  A coach won’t tell you what to do or give you all the answers.

  • An objective, non-judgmental, an excellent listener, and helps you uncover the strategies and steps forward that will work best for you.

  • A way to work to gain mutual commitment to achieve  agreed upon action steps and for shared success.

A Good Coach

Becoming a good coach takes practice. To master coaching, you need have the right skills and use them often. Coaching is about creating relationships.

Some key skills and behaviors of a good coach are:

  • Being present and focused
  • Active listening
  • Use questions that evoke discovery
  • Respect the coachee's perceptions and learning style
  • Provide on-going support
  • Champion new behaviors and actions

Reflection: Distinguish between Coaching and Feedback

Understand the difference between coaching and feedback

Coaching is a conversation. When you coach an employee, you work with them to gain their buy-in into the goal you have in mind, and collaborate with them to help them achieve it

Feedback is a statement. When you offer feedback, positive or negative, you are telling your employees how you expect them to behave.


  • Conversation focused on a problem to be solved, question to be answered, or objective to be reached
  • Focused on future behavior
  • Proactive to obtain a goal
  • Asks questions
  • Goal is for recipient to explore options


  • Observation of a current or past behavior, making clear what should change or continue
  • Focused on current or past behavior
  • Reactive to a situation
  • “Telling” or “Advice” 
  • Goal is for receiver to act a certain way

Critical Conversations

5 Key Conversations

Conversations are a dialog, they are not one sided. Both the manager and employee contribute to the conversation, identify focus areas , and build action plans. There are five key types of conversations that managers can have with employees, each focuses on a specific area or outcome.

Build Relationships

Understand what motivates employees, what is important to them. Having a relationship built on mutual trust and respect will create an open environment. This more personal conversation will provide credibility for more difficult conversations. These conversations can be formal or casual.

Develop Shared Results

There are times, when together, the manager and employee need to agree on outcomes and agree on expectations. Having conversations that result in a plan or some agreed upon actions require open discussion and buy-in from each. Both need to contribute to the conversation for success. 

Praise and Acknowledgement

These conversations focus on work well done, highlights accomplishments or general acknowledgement of what an employee brings to the organization. This positive feedback can strengthen the employee’s commitment and dedication to the team.

Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations, typically address performance issues or undesirable behavior. These conversations need to be factual and direct. Remember it is a dialog, allow the employee to also present their facts and listen to what they have to contribute. 

Growth Conversations

Growth conversations focus on employee's aspirations and goals for the future.  This should be a formal discussion reviewing past accomplishments and what are potential opportunities for the future

Match the Conversations

  • A project was completed successfully
    Praise and Acknowledgement
  • Employee keeps coming in late
    Difficult conversaton
  • Set Goals for the year
    Develop Shared Results
  • Development Planning
    Growth Conversation
  • Check on how it is going with the new co-worker
    Relationship Building

Reflection Assignment

Reflect and Write It Down

  • Reflect on your career, have you benefited from coaching or a great conversation with someone who cared? What was great about it?

  • Reread your manager aspiration.  How does coaching and having conversations that matter impact what you want to achieve and who you want to be as a manager

  • Are you making time for these conversations currently?  If not, what gets in the way (other than time) 

  • Do you believe great coaches are born or made? (Check your growth mindset!)

  • What makes you a great coach, what are your strengths?

  • What areas do you need to practice to be a great coach for your employees?

  • What happens if you just keep doing what you are doing?

Share on the Discussion Board

Now share some of your thinking and “aha's” with your colleagues. Go back to your Thinkific dashboard and post your thoughts. Read through what others have contributed and reply to a few posts.