No diplomatic hand grenades


One way or another, every mistake I have ever made has been related to:

(1) not listening to my intuition,

(2) rushing to make a decision, or

(3) avoiding a difficult conversation.

The last point  includes “not letting people go, who should be let go” – and more on that huge topic in the next post.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen is one of the best books on communication “ever” and if you have not read  this book written 15 years ago in 1999, please do yourself a favour and buy or borrow it.


My post title about hand grenades is right from the beginning of the book, in which the authors make the obvious but often-overlooked point that when something is on your mind/bugging you/ keeping you awake at night and this “something” involves someone else’s perceived failings, there is sadly no sugar-coated way to throw that hand grenade of a message to them without them feeling wounded.  BUT there is also no way “not” to discuss the matter because, as the authors say so succinctly, “Choosing not to deliver a difficult message is like hanging on to a hand grenade once you’ve pulled the pin”.

Another terrific book is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott which includes a lot of examples and anecdotes and is written in an easy, familiar way.

These two books are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the articles and books I have read over the years on the subject of talking about stuff you would rather not talk about…and what I can say is that reading really helps prepare yourself for difficult conversations but…they are still difficult.

My Reader’s Digest commentary on the subject:

1. Very few people get up in the morning with a desire to hurt anyone else or do wrong – and usually what people do makes sense to them. So be wary of getting into the blame game because chances are good that the other person did not intend to do wrong , and  will not see their behaviour as wrong, and will come back at you guns a-blazing if you go in with a “And then you did THIS wrong, and then you did THAT wrong” approach.

2. As Bernard Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander write in their (also excellent) book, The Art of Possibility, we are the board on which the whole game is played.  That contractor who is driving me crazy because he is way late in completing my store? Well, I hired him, gave him the plans, instructed him, and talked to him and so ultimately there is some involvement I have in his delays and the effects of those delays on my business. Just thinking in this way helps me see that if someone is bugging me, one way or another, I myself wandered into his or her sphere. Although the choices we have to deal with this reality are wide open, we’re best off not perceiving ourselves as helpless victims whose only route is to yell and get mad.

3. It is right what Mom said (ok, my Mom never said this but many mothers do), “You collect more flies with honey than vinegar”. It really, really helps a difficult conversation if the other person’s defences aren’t immediately at red alert and the only hope of that happening is if you go in with an attitude of “I appreciate all that you are doing right/have done right/the challenges you are facing/that your cat died”. Remember, life is short and at the end of it we likely won’t be celebrating the bridges we burned. If you can possibly find a way to begin from a stance of “We’re both human and I get what you have done/tried”, the conversation is going to go better.

4. Having said ALL of the above, as a business owner, you can’t be a Polly Anna and sometimes you have to say and do things that are tough to say or do. But try your best to have at least one conversation in which the point is to be gentle, listen, fact-find, brainstorm, and talk about possible solutions. Then,  after a reasonable period of time if the changes you discussed just aren’t happening, you’ll need to have a conversation in which ties are severed, whatever that means in the particular situation. But this will be a little bit easier if you have avoided thinking stuff like, they are all bad and I am all good. Trust me, I have taken the self-righteous  route many times and it isn’t as successful as situations where I have more slowly and kindly approached a difficult situation.

About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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