Great leaders engage in honest conversations. The ability to be open and deliver frank feedback is at the heart of any successful leader’s approach. Having any real influence on the way people think, feel, behave and ultimately perform demands transparent, sincere and candid dialogue. Reflect for a moment on how often and well you engage in the honest conversations you need to.

The power of tough love

The single most important aspect of any people leader’s role is to deliver though love when needed. That is, being completely honest while delivering feedback with compassion and sensitivity. It’s important to remember that while the truth matters, so too does nurturing the spirit and confidence of the individual you are trying to help. Both an empowering and respectful process, tough love is about delivering fair and necessary feedback with conviction and kindness.

Seven steps to engaging in honest conversations well

1. Start with you

Develop your ability to do the people leadership job you signed up for. Get the support you need to move past hesitations and fears holding you back from speaking and hearing the truth.

2. Own your role

Everyone deserves to know how they can, and what they need, to improve. Those of us responsible for leading people have a duty to share honest insight. Live up to your obligation to tell it how it really is, and know that by doing so, you are providing the people on your team with the opportunity to improve, grow and ultimately thrive in their career.

3. Build and leverage trust

The trust and respect people feel toward you has a profound impact on the extent to which they are willing to talk openly. Earn and nurture trust by behaving fairly and consistently. Be constructive, avoid personal judgments or criticisms and focus instead on behaviours or capabilities that need to improve.

4. Act early

Don’t wait for things to go wrong before talking about problems that arise or issues that you foresee. Make regular, open and truthful interactions the culture of your company.

5. Engage in two-way dialogue

Effective and valuable conversations are a two-way street. Don’t simply tell people what you think about their behaviour or performance. Instead, invite them to share their own insights to what they do well and what they need to do differently and listen also to how you can better enable them to succeed.

6. Be direct

Be straight with people and avoid the common mistake of softening your message. Tiptoeing around the issue only undermines your message and leads to confusion. Remember, the truth is a gift of opportunity we give people to understand reality and do something about it – so tell them the whole truth.

7. Be specific

Vague criticisms of someone’s approach or performance do little to help them understand what needs to improve and how to go about it. Enable people to understand specific behaviours, skills or areas of knowledge they need to develop and provide examples that allow people to understand your feedback.