Three Ways to Have a Tough Conversation

Three Ways to Have a Tough Conversation

Tough conversations are crucial to a team’s growth

Join Tom Brown, Executive Director of Semiconductor Business Unit at Brewer Science, as he shares inspirational leadership advice and professional growth stories


Tough conversations are the necessary discussions you have with teammates. They encourage growth and strengthen your relationships. To ensure your tough conversations encourage coachable feedback, you may need to adjust your conversation based on the person and the topic. Through my leadership being a basketball coach and the Executive Director of the Semiconductor Business Unit at Brewer Science, I’ve noticed a pattern of three different ways that tough conversations end in a successful outcome. I will share with you several ways to have a tough conversation.


1. Coaching Your Players

Most people don’t want to be coached. They are looking for positive affirmation and reinforcement that what they are doing is right and that they are exceptional. However, playing into this human nature creates the team’s detriment by instilling a falsehood of substandard expectations.

Coaching is necessary to build trust and lay a foundation for future success. The three pillars of impact illustrate how courage, expectations, and empowerment are all necessary traits of a successful team. Coaching is the only way to achieve results for group success.


2. All Shots are not Equal

As a basketball coach, I noticed kids fail to recognize the difference between a good shot, a tough shot, and a bad shot. Coaches should explain to their players what defines each shot so they understand the expectations of themself and their teammates.

A good shot is one you practice and has a high probability of going in.

A tough shot has a level of difficulty that lowers your shooting percentage but depends upon the player’s ability and the situation. You may be fine with them taking the shot because past experiences with them have provided trust and confidence.

A bad shot is a shot taken by someone who either has not practiced the shot or whose ability translates to a low probability of the shot being made. A bad shot does not mean it was missed or can’t be made, but it typically is not the shot that you want to be taken – especially by that person.


Not all shots are equal. The same shot for one player may be a good shot but for another player it could be a tough shot or even a bad shot. The classification of the shot is circumstantial and dependent on the skill level of the player.  This analogy is adapted to other life circumstances outside of basketball. Consider applying to employees in your department, or even your children in your household – no one person is the same, therefore a coach must account for different skills and situations, similar to how a manager, or a father, adapts the conversation based on the employees, or the child.

3. Conversation to Impact

Whenever you sit down to have that tough conversation, consider the impact that discussion will have on the individual. Use it as an opportunity to open their horizons and teach them about their true potential. You can also apply the lessons learned in the three pillars of impact:

Courage to Challenge: being a force for positive change

Expect Excellence: focusing on the journey and the approach

Empower Others: encouraging a higher level of responsibility and ownership


While tough conversations are challenging for both the person initiating the conversation and the person receiving the feedback, it’s important to realize that tough conversations are a necessary part of growth and relationships. When preparing for your next tough conversation, be sure to recognize your coaching potential. Understand that not all shots are equal and articulate how you can best address different circumstances based on the player (or employee). Lastly, know that tough conversations are a vessel of positive impact. Knowing these three tips will allow you to grow with your next tough conversation and strengthen your relationships beyond today.

Brewer Science is a company that believes deeply in sustaining long-term success through value-based culture, diversity, and growth. Learn more about Brewer Science’s company culture.

  CultureLeadershipTom BrownTeamwork
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