Mind the potholes in the road

Mind the Potholes! Navigating bumps in your difficult conversations.

There’s a road I drive down most days which used to be peppered with potholes. It was an obstacle track trying to navigate past them!

And very frustrating!

Forgetting where they were, I would either swerve to avoid them or fly over them praying I had escaped any serious damage to my bumper.

It reminded me of the way we navigate our way through challenging leadership conversations with our teams or colleagues.

We go out of our way to avoid them which always has consequences.
We park the issues and forget about them only to be faced with a reminder that we need to address them at an inconvenient time.
We approach them too directly or too ambiguously and create a host of new problems?

So I created an acronym as a memory jog for leaders to navigate the POT HOLES in their challenging conversations more competently which leads to a greater opportunity for a successful outcome! And less chance of long term costly damage!

Perspective, Open Mindset, Tone of voice, Humility, Outcome, Listen, Empathy, So What Next?


Something we often find challenging in the midst of a difficult conversation is to view the situation from another point of view. To see it through another lense. However it is a powerful practice sparking a seismic shift in the dialogue, particularly if you verbally acknowledge the other person’s perspective.

“ I hear you’re saying that…” or “I see your point”…

When someone feels heard and acknowledged, it diffuses tension, changing the course of the conversation and opening space for it to continue in a more constructive and helpful way.

Open Mindset:

When we are immersed in conflict, we often make assumptions. We draw conclusions based on what we think we know, rather than the facts. Whether you are embroiled in a personal disagreement with a colleague or managing a conflict amongst your team, keep an open mindset and be aware there might have been a misunderstanding or another explanation for what happened before jumping to your own misguided conclusions.

Tone of Voice:

Tone of Voice can have a huge impact on how our message is conveyed and equally how it lands and is received. As it accounts for 38% of our communication it’s helpful to give it careful consideration particularly during challenging exchanges.

This might include the way we use inflection, how we adopt a ‘sing song’ pitch or increase the volume in our interactions, all of which influence the direction of the conversation and can be the catalyst that escalates tension in our difficult interactions.


Humility is an essential trait in leadership communication. It shows a willingness to listen to others’ opinions and recognise theirs might be worthier than yours.
It means putting pride aside and allowing your teams to shine giving credit where it’s due.
It requires your ego to take a back seat and you to take responsibility for mistakes.

If you would like to foster a cohesive, collaborative and connected people culture, embrace humility in your leadership communication to build rapport, trust and an engaged workforce.


A successful conversation requires a goal. It’s important to be clear what that outcome looks like from the get go. Do you seek an understanding or an apology, a change in behavior or attitude or a willingness to listen. Whatever that might be, don’t engage in the conversation until you have clarity and focus otherwise you might find yourself derailed at the first hurdle.


The power of listening should never be underestimated. It allows others to feel heard and acknowledged. It brings calm to heated discussions. It demonstrates you value and respect their opinions. It comforts and pacifies those in pain. It is a powerful aid to encourage a two way dialogue.

It’s not always easy to listen and it takes focus and a willingness to truly ‘hear’ others but it is well worth the effort once you master it as it can create magical shifts in attitude and behaviours.


Empathy is a key leadership pillar and should not be confused with sympathy because both evoke very different responses. Empathy shows you understand and acknowledge where your team members are struggling, you ‘get them’ and can appreciate their perspective. So how do you demonstrate empathy?

Listen well.
Be curious by asking questions to understand what’s at the core of their issue.
Echo back what you have heard so they feel heard and acknowledged.
Discuss what support you can offer and follow through. Empty promises only incite mistrust, frustration and anger.

So What Next:

Once you have overcome and resolved those bumps in your relationships, be clear about next steps. This is often when all the hard work comes unstuck if no action plan has been agreed. Be specific and ensure everyone knows what is expected of them, confirm timelines and responsibilities. That way, there is no room for ambiguity and everyone is crystal clear about their roles.

If you would like to avoid the bumps in the road ahead in your challenging communications, why not embrace this little acronym.