The No-FEAR Conversation

Dear Coach,

I read your column “The Art of Listening” with great interest. The techniques you offer make a lot of sense. But what about when you need to have a tough conversation with someone? For example, you’re having a problem with an employee reporting to you. How do your listening techniques fit in situations like that?



Dear Bruce,

Great question! My suggestion in those challenging situations is to do a variation on the E-A-R method.  You add a letter to it: “F.” “F” stands for “frame.” Before going into active listening EAR mode, you frame the conversation. The frame is not the picture itself, but it provides the overall parameters. In a short, succinct, and yet candid way, you state the issue or problem. Then you immediately pivot into active listening EAR mode.

Using the example you gave, here’s how a No-FEAR approach would work. Let’s say you are my boss. My shift begins at 8 a.m. You notice that I show up to work at 8:10. You then say to me, “Jathan, it’s 8:10, and your shift begins at eight. What happened?”

Your opening statement framed the conversation. You didn’t blame. You didn’t threaten. You didn’t go into detail. You simply stated the issue before quickly shifting into active listening EAR mode. Your “E” (Explore) question didn’t contain any judgment or opinion. It was purely curiosity-based. From your perspective, who knows what caused me to be late? Let’s find out before we get into “R” (Respond) mode.

The No-FEAR technique is simple, straightforward, and I hear from leaders every week how highly effective it is.

By the way, I call it the “No-FEAR” method because once you practice it, the conversations you’re apprehensive about having will no longer cause you fear.



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at



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