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Preparing for a Tough Feedback Conversation: Effective Communication in Leadership

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

by Stephanie Bickel

leadership and communication skills

Part of new manager training is always perfecting how you lead a tough feedback conversation. They can be some of the most challenging discussions you have when it comes to effective communication in leadership in a business setting. They can also be very rewarding. Our communication coaches have some tips to share on how to prepare for and deliver actionable feedback that is heard and motivating.

1. Prepare your point of view

Find the simplest way to say what needs to be said. If you only had a one sentence recommendation, what would it be? One of our favorite communication coaching exercises is finding your headline recommendation with two supporting points.

2. Get in the right mindset: Imagine you are saying this to a loved one

Use your best interpersonal skills. What is the maximum amount of compassion, empathy, trust, excitement, and curiosity you could feel during this conversation? What do you need to feel to enjoy this conversation? These emotions you feel will be contagious to them.

3. Set the mood

Breathe easily and create the mood you want for the interaction. Don't begin this conversation after aerobic exercises. You want your atmosphere to be relaxed so they will open up and you can use active listening skills.

4. Stay mindful

Come with an open mind and not a fixed idea of only one solution. Make this an active listening exercise for yourself. One of our favorite communication coaching exercises is a role play where we unload a number of unrelated complaints in a simulated tough feedback conversation. The exercise is there to test how much the manager delivering the feedback heard. It is hard to implement active listening and stay open when you have prepared a solid point of view.

5. End on a high

Tell them that you know this can be turned around. Focus on a bright future. Inspirational leadership is simply a point of view. How positive and uplifting is your point of view! While you want to end positive, you always want to end with next steps.

We all want to be inspiring leaders through our effective communication in leadership in business. It is easy to deliver soul-crushing feedback, if you are not careful. It's that delicate balance of using interpersonal skills to interact with others effectively. We need to be able to share direct, actionable feedback in a way that leaves people feeling valued and trusted. We also want the feedback to be significant and have some weight to it.

5 Great Things You Can Say at the End of a Tough Feedback Conversation

  1. “When do you want to try out this change?”

  2. “What do you want me to say if I see a step backward?”

  3. “What should happen if there is no improvement?”

  4. “Are we ok?”

  5. “I know you can do this.”

Make sure you end with communication channels open, next steps and consequences clear, and your commitment to help and believe in them.


Speak by Design University creates great leaders. It’s the only leadership communication program in the world that gives you access to self-paced learning, group coaching and training and, most importantly, private one-on-one coaching. Learn more and register.


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