5 Conversation Tools Every Leader Needs in Their Tool Kit.

We recently shared some short videos on our social media channels about how to hold different kinds of conversations with your team members. Here are 5 powerful conversations tools you can use.
leadership conversation tool kit

We recently shared some short videos on our social media channels about how to hold different kinds of conversations with your team members. See them on our Facebook Page

It is essential that leaders can engage their teams and, among much else; communicate effectively, influence positivity and motivate, set clear expectations and provide constructive feedback to aid continual improvement.

A toolkit of simple and easy to remember acronyms offers a great starting point or reminder for leaders who can adapt their approach based on what they want to achieve in different situations.

These ideas are by no means exhaustive but do cover some of the regular exchanges that most leaders will need to master if they are to get the best out of their teams.


Grow is an acronym co-created by Sir John Whitmore and made famous in his book Coaching for Performance. It is perhaps the most widely adopted coaching model in Ireland. Sir John was a founder of Performance Consultants International who, as a market leader, help organisations improve performance through their leaders by tapping into the huge potential of their people.

Pioneering the field of coaching it should be clear the GROW model runs deeper than our basic outline here. If you can grasp the main concepts of helping the individual to raise their awareness about their own potential to improve, primarily through the use of open questions, then you have a fantastic tool that can help individuals set their own goals, solve problems and increasingly take responsibility for continually striving for improvement.

When you want to encourage the team member to problem solve and define their own goals and actions…

G – Goal         – use open questions throughout so; they identify what they want to achieve

R – Reality      – explore the current reality, what barriers exist, what skills do they possess

O – Options   – they identify possible options, explore multiple options  and confidence with each

W – Will          – they identify the most effective way forward and generate actions



The STAR model is most widely used in interviews as a way of structuring competency or behavioural-based questions such that the interviewer can have the candidate explain how they tackled certain situations in the past. This is based on the idea that past performance is the best predictor of future performance so asking the right questions in recruitment, i.e. those that most closely relate to the work expected, will help identify the best candidates for the position.

STAR can also be used effectively when we conduct a review with our team or team member. Asking questions at each step can help the team member consider their performance and its impact and can help highlight opportunities for learning, doing things differently and identifying the successful aspects of performance.

 When you want the team member to review past performance…

S – Situation  – use open questions to encourage exploration of each area

T – Task

A – Actions

R – Results



Giving feedback to team members may be the most regular activity many leaders engage in. Certainly, every leader should have it high on their agenda. Catching your team getting it right or getting it wrong or simply acknowledging what you have observed or what they have achieved is crucial to engagement. We should think about spreading our time equally across all team members no matter what the differential in performance levels. Each team member deserves our attention and input; after all not reinforcing what you want to see continue may mean it stops happening – and perhaps because nobody confirmed it was right or maybe simply because the team member feels aggrieved that their efforts have gone unacknowledged.

 When you want to provide your assessment of recent/current performance and/or affect change…

What / Why (Reinforce) – Let the team member know specifically what they have done well and specifically why that is good.


What / Why (Change)     – State specifically what you have observed and why that needs to change.

What / Why                        – Follow up with what you expect instead and why that would be better.



There are a few variations on the SBI approach to behavioural feedback. They essentially all follow the same principles but just use differing terms for each stage of the process.

SBI reminds us that feedback about people’s behaviour can be tricky because it invariably calls into question the person’s intent. When we remember that we can never really be sure of someone’s intentions, only of their behaviour, we can tread carefully with our language to ensure the feedback is received well and not taken personally.

We have to avoid the risk that our criticism is perceived as about the person (as a whole) rather than the behaviour (only an isolated aspect of the person). It is perfectly reasonable in this model to make a subjective assessment of the impact of a person’s behaviour and indeed to be truthful about how it made us feel personally, if that is appropriate. But that assessment should follow an objective description of the situation and behaviour (evidence-based) and avoid judgement and opinion about the person’s reasons for doing it – delivered well, they will usually give us their version of events anyway.

When you want to give behavioural-based feedback where you expect resistance…

S – Situation – remind the individual of the specific scenario you are referring to

B – Behaviour – describe body language, tone, words and specific actions

I – Impact – explain the impact; from multiple perspectives if necessary



This is another coaching model which works well when a team member needs to learn a process or routine or how to operate a system for example.

STEER coaching differs from GROW in that it is more directive. The leader takes more control and needs to have a sound understanding of how to complete the task so they can demonstrate the process, practice or system etc to use.

There are many opportunities to help team members improve and many leaders want to pass on their expertise. This model reminds us that having explained what to do and given a demonstration, it is crucial to get the team member to show and explain back to you what they have understood. It is this switching of who is in the driving seat that both accelerates the learning of the team member (who gets immediate practice and encouragement) while simultaneously confirming the level of ability and understanding of the team member back to the leader.

Without a model or approach like this it is common for a careful explanation to be followed up with a simple, “Do you understand?” to which the answer is all too often “Yes” whether than is true or not.

When you want to pass on knowledge, skills and prove competence…

S – Spot the opportunity

T – Tailor your approach to the individual

E – Explain and demonstrate what you expect

E – Encourage and support while the individual practices

R – Review and confirm understanding or practice again if necessary

What other models and acronyms are you aware of?

Which do you find the most effective?