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Four Tough Questions

The majority of the time we are very pleased with how our grants work and the organizations with which we work. Occasionally things get messy. When we find ourselves frustrated or it becomes obvious that there are real problems happening I find it helpful to have a basic approach that ensures that I accomplish what I really want to in our discussions. We work hard to have open communication with our partner charities, trying to ensure they aren’t afraid to share honestly when things don’t go well. I spend a lot more time in supportive mutual discussion than in any kind of oppositional confrontation. When I hear about struggles for one of our partners my first thoughts always go to the well being of the people involved. Layoffs, departures, difficult decisions, and setbacks are tough and I don’t want to pile on when things are already tough. The first conversation is almost always supportive and genuinely concerned. I try to understand how people are doing, how they are being impacted, and what they are doing to care for themselves and their team. Maybe it’s my background as a pastor coming out, but I think of it as just being a friend. The next conversation, when the immediate crisis has passed, is quite different. While its still meant to be ultimately supportive, I need to get to the bottom of what has gone wrong and how it is going to be prevented from happening again. I think of it as a Four Tough Questions conversation. It can be easy for these discussions to get sidetracked and lose focus so I limit myself to four carefully thought out questions. I let our partners know what to expect, share the questions from the start and take notes to ensure that I get the information I need. I think it gives assurance that I’m taking things seriously and professionally. To this point I’ve never asked Four Tough Questions they aren’t able to answer. In fact, it has always gone quite well. The discipline of preparing with this approach has made it a lot easier for everyone involved to leave the conversation confident that there is shared understanding on the most important issues. How do you approach difficult conversations?