Dr. Michelle Braden

Leadership Coach


Dr. Michelle Braden

Michelle has coached and trained leaders and teams for over 20 years. She is the founder of the Authentic Leadership Summit, the Emerging Executive Leadership and Conversational Oxygen Programs. Michelle has also served as a panelist for the World Coaching Conference. Michelle is a certified coach with PCC credentials from the International Coaching Federation, is a Master Certified Executive Coach with the MEECO Leadership Institute, holds a PhD in Leadership/Management and is the author of three leadership books: Stand OutDare to Make a Difference, and Bottom Line. She is also a long-term thought-leadership contributor to several blogs/publications including: Forbes, Thought Leaders, Lead Change and Leadership Courseware.

Michelle is committed to partnering with leaders to identify their motivators, drivers, values and principles that increase their awareness of who they are and how they want to be known as a leader. She works with leaders to uncover both productive and challenging behaviors that may be enhancing their leadership or holding them back from being the leaders they want to be. Ultimately, leaders are motivated to set and achieve their highest goals. 

One of the many things that sets Michelle apart as an executive/leadership coach is her own broad experience as a leader. She has leadership experience in the corporate arena including healthcare and executive recruitment, small business, nonprofits and education (in both private and public sectors). She has often been labeled as a “visionary leader who has the ability to create a plan and inspire people to move the vision forward.”  Michelle’s down to earth approach, strategic business sense, and interpersonal relationship skills put people at ease and inspire leaders to gain the most from their coaching and training! 

Michelle’s areas of coaching/training expertise include: Executive, Leadership, Women in Leadership, High Potential Coaching and Developing Executive Presence. She has worked with leaders at all levels, from emerging executives in non-profits and small businesses to C-Suite leaders of large organizations and Generals of our military forces.  She has partnered with a large variety of organizations including The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Coty International, Ford Motor Company, Brighthouse Financial, WorldStrides, InterContinental Hotel Groups, Salesforce, The Federal Reserve Bank, Morgan Keegan, Capital One, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, Battelle, General Dynamics and LexisNexis to name a few. 

Michelle has also been a keynote speaker for organizations such as Virginia Government Finance Officers Association, National Organization of Rheumatology Managers, Virginia Recreation and Park Society, and SHRM.  She has also worked with many leadership focused groups in the non-profit arena and with women in executive leadership, including the Women’s Leadership Program at the Darden School of Business. Michelle has also executive coached special operations forces in transition through The Honors Foundationand coaches for the Mandela-Washington Fellow’s Program for African Leaders in Business and Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership, or Public Management.

Michelle is married to Steven Braden and proud mother to Anthony and Rebecca, Erica and Zane, Josh and Aida,  and their golden retriever, Levi.  She is now a grandmother (Lollie) to six grandchildren… Micah, Matias, Eden Grace, Ari, Ezra and Sol.  She enjoys getting out in nature, working in the yard, reading, writing, running, hiking, camping and meaningful conversations with family and friends. Michelle has lived in 13 states and finds she easily adapts to any culture.


Shifting Perspective in Sensitive Conversations

In preparing to write this article for The Women CEO, I reached out to several female executives and leaders to get their input.  I received a variety of answers; however, there were a few themes and patterns that emerged.  One of themes that consistently bubbled to the top was regarding how to manage conflict, especially when the stakes, opinions and values are high.  Throughout this article, I will refer to “managing conflict” as managing different perspectives and/or managing sensitive conversations.  If a leader acquires the skills (competency) and mindset (confidence and belief) to handle these types of situations, it simply is another conversation, a meaningful conversation, and a conversation and, nonetheless. 

In healthy relationships, a conversation is something to embrace rather than to run from or crash into.  Think about your deepest relationships, they are typically the ones you have worked through the tough situations, as well as benefited from the meaningful and fulfilling aspects of the relationship.  Most of us are aware of the flight, fight, freeze or appease approach to managing conflict.  However, there are different approaches which are much more successful to choose from.  In this article, we will explore some other approaches to shifting our perspective to handle sensitive conversations more successfully. 

Before I dive into different approaches to shifting one’s perspective to have effective conversations, it is critical to discuss relationship.  Relationship is built on trust, mutual respect and not only feeling but also genuinely believing another has your best interest.  I want to clarify, professional relationships do not mean your colleague, direct report, boss, etc. is your friend.  It does mean you respect and appreciate the value your teammate brings to the team and organization.  This is a paradigm shift.  This definition of relationship is crucial and foundational to move forward with the practice of shifting perspective to enhance communication.  Therefore, as you continue to read this article, keep in mind, the practices discussed work most (and more) effectively when they are practiced within the context of defined, professional relationship. 

When we think about perspective it can be different depending upon our view or to use a metaphor, our “street corner”.  For example, if there were 4 individuals on 4 different street corners who witnessed an automobile accident, they all may have a different story of what happened, even a different opinion of who was at fault… this is all based upon their perspective.  What happens if they shift their perspective (cross the street to another street corner), to see the situation from another preview or another’s perspective?  What happens if they strive to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than only striving to be understood themselves, or to be right?  If we can genuinely understand another’s perspective, even if we still embrace our own, we are much closer to being able to find common ground or a minimum, disagree and commit…. All can be done in the context of respect and understanding.

There 7 skills/competencies we will explore in this article that are pivotal to achieving success in sensitive conversations.   Each one interplays with the other.  We have already discussed the first two.  The first of which is relationship (as defined in paragraph three).   The second is shifting perspective or allowing yourself to see from another person’s view (street corners discussed in paragraph four). 

The additional 5 skills are self-awareness, self-management, being curious, asking questions to learn, practicing grace, or giving others the benefit of the doubt, and being able to move on.  The 7th skill is a bonus, and that is being intentional to have the types of sensitive conversations discussed in this article. 

Each person is unique and has different needs and desires to create relationship.  The leader must be intentional to understand each team member to create relationship that works for them (platinum rule) vs only focusing on the type of relationship they (the leader) desires (golden rule).  This understanding can come from an informal standpoint of observation, asking questions, listening, spending time together.  From a formal standpoint, a leader can understand how to build stronger relationship using different human behavior assessments (note, the goal of a human behavior tool is to better understand and value each other not at all to stereotype or label each other). 

In moving forward to shifting one’s perspective the remaining 5 competencies might be considered sub-competencies of the first two.  They create the space for a leader to be able to successfully shift street corners within the context of a professional relationship. 

Let’s begin with self-awareness.  Self-awareness is being aware of your own internal emotional state, recognizing that you can have more than one emotion going on at the same time, acknowledging that emotions can happen unconsciously and that we all have biases.  Self-awareness is also aware of when we may need to step away from the conversation to take a mental break; however, it is crucial to come back and finish the conversation, which takes us to self-management.  Self-management is being able take what we know about ourselves from internal exploration of self-awareness and determine how we want to manage and adjust our behaviors to best reflect our leadership brand.  Self-management is also the ability to move our emotions from expressing behavior to being able to express what we are experiencing in words.  Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Once we can manage ourselves in a healthy manner and one that is congruent with our values, we can choose to be curious.  Being curious is not just about asking questions.  Being curious is genuine interest to learn another’s perspective. 

I cannot stress enough that being curious to learn another’s perspective does not mean you are only striving to agree with the other person.  Rather, you are striving to understand the other person (their perspective). 

Intertwined with curiosity is the ability and skill of asking questions to learn and appreciate the other person’s point of view.  It is a stronger human need to be understood than to be right. In considering understanding another, it is imperative to give grace or giving another the benefit of the doubt. Giving the benefit of the doubt, is to assume best intent.  Too often in sensitive conversations each party can go to their own street corners and assume the other person is out to get them and their view is the only right view.  I have found this is typically not the case, and it is more about misunderstanding.  Ask yourself, how you can give others the benefit of the doubt (even when you need clarification), what would happen if you approached the conversation with assuming the other had good intentions?  The sixth skill is to be able to move on.  It is important an any relationship to learn from sensitive situations/conversations.  Lean into curiosity and powerful questions to be able to move forward.  Questions such as, how we can ensure this does not happen again, what have we learned from this situation, how can we better communicate in the future and so forth. 

The 7th skill is a bonus, however, if you do not practice this skill, the other 6 do not matter.  In our busy worlds the 7th competency may be the most challenging to put into practice.  Being intentional means, we go slow to go fast.  We slow down to think through what we experienced (self-awareness) and how we want to handle (discuss) the situation with another (self-management).  In some cases, we may choose to give the other the benefit of the doubt and let the situation go.  I encourage you to not use this scenario as an excuse to not have the sensitive conversation.  Rather, choose to be reflective on if the situation warrants the energy of the conversation, or if you already have shifted your street corner to understand the other’s perspective.  Below are a few acronyms that may help you in preparing for sensitive conversations.  An executive coach is also a meaningful way to practice and work through learning how to have these conversations.

  • WAIT
    • Why
    • Am
    • I
    • Talking
  • STOP
    • Stop
    • Take a breath
    • Observe the body, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations
    • Proceed with more awareness
  • PAUSE (MSBCoach Acronym)
    • Problems 
    • Are
    • Usually, misunderstandings 
    • Solved when we seek to learn from the others 
    • Experience 

Lastly, to manage sensitive conversations, remember it is imperative to be self-aware and self-managed enough to find your way back HOME – Giving and Receiving Feedback within a Foundation of Trust

  • H – Hunch – a hunch is a feeling or guess based upon your observation rather than the known facts (or another’s facts/feelings)
  • O – Outcome – what was the outcome for you in this engagement
  • M – Moving Forward – what outcome would you like to keep the same or change moving forward based upon your hunch 
  • E – Elements – remember the specific elements or details of the situation, including when, where, and why the encounter happened. The elements are the foundation and framework of using HOME and are especially important to share at the beginning of the conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from Peter Diamandis, “When I think about creating abundance, it is not about creating a life of luxury for everybody on this planet; it is about creating a life of possibility.  It is about taking that which is scarce and making it abundant”.  We live in a world where managing sensitive conversations in a respectful and civil manner is scarce.  How can you as a leader choose to make abundant and possible a world of understanding, grace, and relationship when it comes to sensitive conversations?