5 Effective Communication Skills - Dealing With Difficult Conversations


Conflict is a fact of life, and it happens in every workplace. As leaders, we’re unlikely to get through day-to-day operations without the occasional tough, perhaps heated, or even hair-raising discussion with an employee or colleague.

Conflicts can manifest overnight and should be managed. Because they can escalate quickly when we don’t make the time to have those difficult conversations.

Such conversations arise for many reasons. It may be a simple matter such as leave or a pay rise request,  or more serious employee grievances or performance related issues.

No matter the nature of the issue, it’s important to deal with it straight away. Let it linger at your peril - that’s when things escalate. Going into the discussion with a careful and considered approach is wise. A difficult conversation, handled insensitively, can affect your relationship with the other party, and the wider workforce too – perhaps even your business relationships.

Fair Work Ombudsman Australia outlines the best practice steps for getting to grips with such conversations, making them easier and more constructive.  These steps provide leaders and business owners with practical guidance, and they’re designed to help us avoid potential pitfalls, oversights and general mismanagement.


Begin the meeting by stating what the issue is right away. Don’t preface the conversation with unnecessary small talk – this gives a false impression.


Stick to the facts rather than relying on opinions or hearsay. Give examples where possible. Explain how the issue is impacting on your organisation. Most importantly, focus on the issue at hand, rather than the person.


Listen to your employee. Considering their point of view is vital. There could be a range of facts or situations you don’t know about. Keeping an open mind may help you consider alternative solutions.


Be prepared for your employee to react emotionally. Consider telling them in advance that they can bring a support person to the meeting, if they want to.


Manage your own emotions as well. Stay calm and focus objectively on the issues.

The ideal outcome is an agreement, and you should aim for a mutually agreed plan. Then be consistent and have the smarts to follow through. The more resolute you are with this, the greater the probability of a successful outcome in the long term. That’s a win for everyone concerned.

There are complexities and ambiguities in every workplace. These simple strategies are designed to help you manage them. Take some time to measure your own processes against them, and tweak accordingly.

Want to mitigate conflict in the first place? Keep communication channels open. Your employees should be comfortable in discussions with you. 

It takes time, skill and effort to lead people – so be brave and have the conversations that truly matter.


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Leadership Language - 3 Powerful Words You Shouldn't Use!


Yeah, but no, but yeah, but …

Marshall Goldsmith likes practical and proven methods. He’s not a man to beat about the bush. As a world-renowned business educator and coach, Goldsmith’s singular ability to get results for top leaders has drawn over 150 CEOs and their management teams to transform their thinking and bring about deep and effective changes in their workplace – and their own behaviour.

One of his secrets? The ‘No, But, However’ theory.

Here’s what Goldsmith writes in his MG Thinkers 50 Blog. ‘An easy habit for people who like to win to fall into, and a surefire shortcut for killing conversations, is to start a sentence with “no,” “but,” or “however”. It doesn’t matter how friendly your tone is or how honey sweet you say these words, the message to your recipient is “You are wrong.”’

These three words, however you configure them, exhibit a lack of interest in exploring options and being open to the perspective of others present.

“That’s true, but I think that misses the point ...”
“Yes, but let’s remember that ….. “
“I know. However, the thinking around that has been …”
“No, that’s not what we’re talking about here …”
“Well maybe that’s the case, but if we look at past examples…..”

To Marshall, using of these words is a clear indicator of one’s leadership style. And it’s characterized by an underlying competitiveness and power play.

Does that sound like you? If you’ve answered ‘Yes, but…..’ then perhaps you need to read on.

The presence of these tiny inflections in your speech patterns and your thinking habits means other contributions in the debate sink into a kind of twilight zone for you. They may as well not be there. They’re irrelevant.

It leaves the other people in the conversation wondering whether commenting is in any way worthwhile, or having a future opinion is worth the effort.

When you occupy a leadership position, or any role of authority, it can be easy to override the ideas of others, and call upon your own view as the prevailing one. There’s no doubt that developing a presence as the other style of leader - a collaborative one - takes time and patience. You’ve got to listen to all those other views, think about them, maybe even incorporate them into your own thinking!

However, (did we really say that?) - the payoff can be golden. It builds a team of diverse thinkers, confident that they have the right to put new and interesting points on the table. Ultimately it builds the capacity for your business to make strategic progress, and innovate … without you.

It’s radical, but true. You may remain there, but your business and your colleagues thrive all around you. And if you get called away, take a sabbatical, or want to move on, you’ve created a successful and independent team – that’s a great legacy.

Think about taking this test. For the next few days, make a mental note each time you reply with “No,” “But,” or “However.” Why not make an actual note of it too – you may be surprised when you refer to it later. Go the whole hog and ask your team to help. Encourage them to call you on it! Brave enough? You’ll find that this elevates the quality of your guidance, and your team’s collaborative engagement.

The less we focus on ourselves the more we benefit, believes Goldsmith. We think it’s a simple technique that we could all benefit from!

(We should say at this point, that’s not Marshall in the pink tracksuit.)

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Bad Boss Behaviour - Are You Guilty?


Are you guilty of bad boss behaviour? The chances are that nobody will tell you, least of all your employees. But we will!

Employees tolerate a lot of bad management. Some bosses are untrained in how to lead. Others may be uncaring or clueless to the challenges faced by the individuals in their team. And some are just oblivious to the impact of their actions or interaction.

For an ordinary employee, it takes immense courage to give direct feedback to a manager. It’s risky too. What if it goes over badly? Are they likely to face a reprimand or worse?

If they choose not to table their thoughts, as most do faced with this intimidating scenario, then it takes a lot of commitment for them to look past any transgressions and stay engaged.

In the worst case scenario, an employee moves on to greener pastures, leaving their boss no wiser of their shortcomings, or the reason behind the revolving door and continual recruitment drive.

Worth addressing? We think so. Read on – because nobody need know you’re doing so, and it might save you a whole heap of grief – you and your employees.


Incompetence is a slur thrown around and can mean different things to different people. Generally, incompetence is an inability to do your job satisfactorily, the way others might expect.

It can be a passing phase, brought on by random circumstances. We’ve all found ourselves in situations that overwhelm us and have felt unequal to the task in hand at some point. This is pretty natural in the normal course of things. Put your hand up and ask for help – situation solved. That’s not necessarily incompetence. That’s just you, having a moment.

When incompetence lingers and repeats itself, when the same situations occur on repeat, it’s more than just a passing phase. In this scenario, you need help. If you find yourself in a role where the shoe really doesn’t fit, the best course of action by far is to ask for help and advice, or find a role that’s better suited to your shoe size and skill set. That could be inside the company – or it could be elsewhere.

Own it. The problem, the scenario – be accountable. Because those around you have a ringside view of every stumble, blunder and fall. They’re most likely talking too, a situation which isn’t healthy or helpful for any of us.



Egos are tricky things. If you’re not careful, yours can sneak up and announce itself when you least expect it. Before you know it, you’re acting in ways that simply aren’t conducive to good leadership. You’re not valuing your team, you’re not adding value to the discussion, and deep down you know it.

Our ego can be our biggest barrier to success. We’re all good at something but we’re not necessarily the best. Some people find that hard to accept, and they waste a lot of everyone’s time and effort in denying it. Ultimately, it’s worth sacrificing your ego and ‘settling’ for mainstream. Because if we all stick to what we’re good at and work together instead of trying to outshine everyone else, we can make greatness happen – together.

To be outstanding in a particular field takes a deep level of mastery. To create mastery as a group is easier. We’re better as a tribe. Try it.


Management gone wrong makes employees feel unprotected and insecure. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and a fear of consequences. Marcus Buckingham, British author and motivational speaker has famously said, ‘People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.’

Great leaders can define a culture. They drive engagement, safety and trust. They look out for the person on their left, while supporting the person to their right, and they never forget about the people above and below.

This type of leader stands out. They’re instantly recognizable. Their employees can be seen to trust them implicitly - they’re given no reason to feel otherwise. And they’re followed because that naturally feels right to those around them.

A leader like this can be certain that when the chips are down their tribe will back them, working smarter, harder, creating greatness.

So if you find yourself standing alone, have a think about your circle of trust. Do you have one? Or are you mostly gazing at your own reflection? Perhaps a few people loiter around you submissively. If so, it could be because you’re paying their salary.

Give them a better reason for staying.


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Endure and Enjoy! Surviving Small Biz – and the School Holidays

Working mother

What do small business ownership, parenthood and crowdfunding for finance have in common?

Well, many of us will do each of them over the course of our adult life. They all feel like endurance sports at times, requiring Olympian levels of vitality, versatility and inventiveness, grit and determination. And they’re all hugely enjoyable.

And what do you need when faced with vertical learning curves and constant juggling, when you’re looking over the rim of a glass of lunchtime Sauvignon and thinking back fondly to your corporate career? Survival strategies!


It’s a maxim that comes in handy when looking for husband or wife material in our twenties and it can still serve us well in working life. There’s not a lot of time to waste if you’re fitting your workload into the short hours while small people are at school. That’s a 30 hour working week and every minute has to count. If you’re driving and growing a small business, and if you’re a parent to boot, you are at the coal face when it comes to understanding the value of doing things fast. Doing them well, but crunching the important details, with no time for sweating the small stuff.

Work every day with a priorities list. Choose the things you really want to get done, which have an hourly rate or a fee attached to them, which push forward a useful connection, or drive a campaign. That way, the minute the school bus hits the gravel at the end of the driveway, you can take satisfaction in having achieved what you needed to from the day – and the rest of that day is all about the people you’re doing it for.


You learn to put your collywobbles aside when you’re in small business. It’s all about putting yourself and your ideas out there. The secret is simple: just take one small step at a time away from your comfort zone. Don’t let yourself get overcome by the ultimate goal. Break things down into small achievable chunks, and focus on one at a time. Make one phone call. Write one email to an angel investor. You never know what is going to reap rewards, so just keep going. Before you know it, your comfort zone has expanded to twice its original size without you even realising!

"It always seems impossible until it's done." - Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid leader


You’ve got to wear all the hats as an entrepreneur. Have your idea, grow your idea, realise it, market it, get it funded. You’ve got to know finance, marketing, the digital age and how to get on with people in real life and the virtual space. If you’re already transitioning daily between being a red hot innovator at work and a hot mummy or daddy at home, you’re used to switching roles and maybe you love it. But when there’s capacity and finances, outsource.

Whatever you’re a non-starter at in your business, bring the expertise in from elsewhere, whether it’s the accounts, marketing or business development. Form a partnership, do a small business exchange. Get a cleaner to keep your surfaces clear and your feng shui flowing at home. And if you’re crowdfunding or financing a product, look for help with the marketing strategy you’ll need for when you’re fully funded. Because 100% funded is where it all begins!


Seriously. Don’t be hard on yourself. If you’re driving any sort of business, campaign or project forwards plus keeping house and home together as well, be sure to program in downtime. The human brain wasn’t manufactured in a Ferrari factory and it’s not designed to be driven at constant high speed. Take time out!

Need some reassurance that it’s not time wasted? Ever woken up with a great idea for that product you’re developing / recruit you’re making / newsletter you’re writing? That’s because your subconscious has been working on things while you were sleeping. Downtime and rest are not time wasted – they’re essential in looking after your mental health.

“Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive.” - Tim Ferris, author of ‘The Four Hour Work Week’


The biggest and best philosophy of all? Don’t give up. Success comes in incremental steps – those same small steps you began taking out of your comfort zone earlier in the piece.

"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." - F. Scott Fitzgeral, American author

#HR editor, writer and small business owner Fiona Stocker runs a small farm, food and agri-tourism business with her husband, and is crowdfunding her first book Apple Island Wife: Escape to Tasmania with major international crowdfunding publisher Unbound, based in the UK. Read more and pledge your support on the Unbound campaign page.


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Lightbulb Moments and Why We Should Act on Them


‘When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven’t.’ Fine words from Thomas A. Edison, father of the light bulb and one of the world’s most prolific inventors.

Edison was a busy man, creating devices that influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and the motion picture camera. He did it with very limited resources, and often in seemingly simple ways. He wasn’t guided by forums or comment sections, from impressive analytic software or world-wide searches for specialised talent. He invented deftly and creatively - and made lots of mistakes, using his failures to achieve greater understanding and bring him closer to his eventual success.

For us, perhaps it’s not so simple. We’re in information overload, deluged with an abundance of knowhow and opinion. Information is at our finger tips – an endless supply of tools, tips, tricks, and hacks we can access in our pursuit of knowledge and results.

The possibility that we can exhaust every avenue of enquiry is just not feasible. Edison himself would be baffled by the scope of the Internet. So the greatest challenge for us lies in finding the sweet spot – the exact moment when we should stop searching - and start doing. Often it’s much earlier than we think.

Too much choice makes any process exhausting. It leads to uncertainty and a kind of decision-making paralysis. And when you’re in business or leading a team, grinding to a halt is dangerous.



Researcher Barry Schwartz says, “As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase.” We presume, Schwartz says, that if some choice is a good thing, then more choice will be better. He calls this the ‘paradox of choice’ and cites one particular study that makes it all clear.

In a corner store one Thursday, six types of jam were placed on sale in an attractive display. On Friday, the numbers were increased to twenty-four different flavours. How’s a person to choose? Well might you ask!

Researchers found that Friday’s jam-fest attracted more customers than the modest display on Thursday, but when it came time to buy, shoppers who had seen Friday’s multitude of flavours were one-tenth as likely to buy as those who had seen the more manageable display on Thursday!



Too much choice, then, or the endless pursuit for more choice, is not necessarily a good thing, and that goes for our business practices as well.

It certainly makes sense to shop around in the quest for reduced stationary costs or when purchasing specialist safety equipment. But when making decisions involving people or productivity, trying to exhaust all possibilities can end up putting limits on the final decision – or thwarting it altogether.

Making the best choice should be less about algorithmic equations and star ratings, and more about using our creative thinking and intuition.

Allowing ourselves fewer options to choose from and get confused by can also help steer us away from making conventional choices, and encourage us to delve into the world of more creative possibilities.



Recruitment is a prime example of where we often feel obliged to amass an overwhelming level of information before making choices or appointing candidates. Seeking the ideal becomes all about nailing a specific skillset to the ‘nth’ degree, when it should be the hunt for a diverse thinker and a creative mind.

If you’re in an interview and getting the feeling that the best candidate is sitting there right in front of you, trust your instinct. And be careful. Are you conducting a thorough interview – or making them jump through pointless hoops? An excessive checklist of questions can quickly turn a good candidate’s interest into utter disinterest. And for the would-be employer, wanting to exhaust all possibilities in the recruitment and interview process can lose you the best candidate – maybe one who could bring greatness to the team.

When Edison thought he’d try ‘just one more thing’, he wasn’t confronted with a list of multiple thousand search results. The world is different today and it’s important to know when to stop. We all know when we’re having a light bulb moment. Connect with your instincts and act on it!


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