emotional intelligence

Difficult conversations just got easier

Some of the more frequent areas we are asked to work on with individuals and teams include enhancing communication skills, conflict management, and difficult conversations. These are not lightweight conversations and while some may enjoy the challenge ‘conflict’ brings, others are skeptical or even averse to engaging in the difficult or potential conflict evoking conversation.

So what is it that makes difficult conversation hard and why do we say it just got easier?

Difficult conversations require courage, emotional intelligence, and savvy communication and leadership skills – no matter what title or role you hold in an organization, including with your family and friends. It also requires you to have some sense of personal power, in other words – work on yourself and your personal development rather than worry about fixing or correcting the others in the conversation. Sounds simple, but it is challenging. We know this from our work and from our own personal development. It’s why there are so many resources to support us in developing communication skills, dealing with conflict and having those challenging conversations. We each have our favorite authors and influencers in this area, and we’ve appreciated what we’ve learned and applied as part of our own development, personally and professionally. Notice our inclusion of ‘applied’ in the previous sentence – the application of what we learn is really important to integrating learning into practice. This principle is what spurred us to create Back Pocket Coach as a tool to use for applied learning, practice, and ultimately habit to approach those potentially challenging or difficult conversations with ease.

Click here to get Back Pocket Coach on Amazon Kindle!


We saw successful clients challenged by bully bosses and boards as they devolved into emotional turmoil rather than address from a place of strength. We know it’s hard to be strong when people are yelling, and unfortunately bad behavior still happens far too often in all types of places in organizations.

So how can you combat bad behavior and stay strong?

Try strategy #26 in back pocket coach: Assume positive intent. No matter what the other person is saying or doing remember they are human and they are probably doing the best they know how to at any given moment in time – even if it seems like they should know better. So Assume positive intent – Working with others can be challenging. Our emotions may cause us to question their intent or motivation, especially when they seem to be in opposition to ours. Next time, try this: Before assuming you “know” what the other person’s intention is, ask! Then methodically reflect back what you hear them say. This simple act of clarifying will calm your nervous system and allow you to set the tone for a positive dialogue.

Remember, you have the power to make the difference!

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #20: May I ask a question?


Have you ever been in a meeting that has gotten off track and no one, including the meeting organizer, seems to be able to get everyone refocused? Or you’re having a 1-on-1 conversation with your supervisor or colleague about a specific topic and, before you know it, the conversation has veered off course and devolved into something completely irrelevant? There is a brilliantly simple method you can use to refocus a meeting or conversation in a way that respects the people involved and, at the same time, gets everyone back on topic. Simply ask the person responsible for the digression: “May I ask a question?” In a meeting an example of a question could relate to a specific agenda topic. As in, “Earlier you mentioned…which I found extremely relevant to our programmatic goals. Could you elaborate on this?”

When you ask this question, several things happen. First, you are asking permission to enter the conversation, which respects the person who is speaking. Next, asking the question implies your interest in his input. And, if you do this in a meeting, it can also serve to elicit participation from someone who has not yet spoken. Ask the question, then follow with, “I’d like to hear Bob’s thoughts.”

Try “May I ask a question?” You will be amazed at how well this works. And it will also strengthen your connection with the other person.

Strategy #20 “May I ask a question?” | www.BackPocketCoach.com | @RossCoach | @CoachDianeB

How are you doing as a leader? Find out here.

how are you doing as a leader

Being an effective leader hinges on your ability to be self-aware. Self-awareness is foundational in developing your emotional intelligence. We’ve created a brief individual leadership assessment to provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your leadership. The assessment is based in part on Patrick Lencioni’s work in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

We encourage you to take a few minutes to complete this self-assessment. It could provide you with valuable insight on how you engage with others and manage yourself related to these five key behaviors. Most important, you can apply the insights immediately.

Answer these five questions from the perspective of those who work with you: supervisors, board members, direct reports, colleagues, customers, and any other key stakeholders.

Be brutally honest with yourself and reflect on what you learn.

Use the following numbers to best describe how you believe others would rate you in each area: 3 = Usually  2 = Sometimes  1 = Rarely

  1. Fosters Trust: _____

I create an environment that builds and fosters trust. This means my colleagues, direct reports, and others know they can be open with me about miscalculations and challenges without fear or harsh judgment. I cultivate openness, honesty, and appreciation, because I know it builds trust and improves our learning and performance as a team.

  1. Embraces Conflict: _____

I encourage dialogue and discussion that includes working through conflict and challenging situations. I do not engage or promote conflict for the sake of argument. I actively cultivate an environment that supports people in having difficult conversations and learning from differing opinions.

  1. Demonstrates Commitment: _____

I demonstrate full commitment to our people and to our work. My team members know that they can count on me. I am fully committed to developing excellence in our people and in achieving results.

  1. Inspires Accountability: _____

I take full accountability for my responsibilities and my actions. I model this behavior for others. I also know that without clear expectations, I can’t expect people to be held accountable for results.

  1. Delivers Results: _____

I am focused on results without leaving human wreckage in my wake. I encourage operating collaboratively, keeping the focus on the end goal and delivering on results.

Calculate your total score by adding up your ratings for questions 1 through 5: ______

  • If your score is between 13 and 15, wonderful job. You are at the top as a leader. To stay there takes work. Select one of the five areas (Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, or Results), and keep that as your focus for the next month. Notice what you learn about yourself and in working with others.
  • If your score is between 9 and 13, you’re doing well overall but not maintaining this consistently. Take a look at where you rated the lowest and identify a few actions you might take to strengthen this area. You might consider talking with direct reports and colleagues for additional feedback to gain more insight into how they see you as a leader and to help you formulate your action plan.  
  • If your score is between 5 and 8, you might be missing opportunities to engage your direct reports, colleagues, and others in ways that support teamwork and high performance. Your willingness to take this assessment demonstrates your interest in being an even more effective  leader. Use this as an opportunity to strengthen yourself. Consider working with a mentor or coach to support you in your leadership development.

We hope this quick self-assessment has given you some new insight into your areas of strength and opportunities for development. If you are serious about your leadership development and want to enhance it further, contact us at info@backpocketcoach.com or call us at 303-284-3333.

In the meantime, stay alert to how you are being and behaving with others. One way to squeeze even more value from this short self-assessment is to conduct interviews with your team using these questions.

We (Diane Brennan and Alexandra Ross) offer a depth of experience as leadership / executive coaches. We specialize in working with executives, managers and teams who have learned the value of adding leadership development into the mix to support their success. So whether it’s executive coaching, teambuilding, or a combination, we can help you amplify the results you want.

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