Leaders, Have That Conversation

Leaders, Have That Conversation

by elainesuess
In working with a group of high potential leaders recently, they shared that one of the top areas of concern for them was navigating conflict/difficult conversations.

It’s true. More often than not, when a conversation feels like it will be uncomfortable, people put it off. Or, they avoid it altogether. And, this is not just a challenge for up and coming leaders, but often company presidents and C-level leaders.

So, what to do about it?

  • First, getting in the right frame of mind about it can help.
  • Second, believing you can become more comfortable with the uncomfortable will help.
  • Third, making a commitment to building your conversational muscles can positively impact work relationships and your business.

The Cost of Avoidance

If you’re a research hound or facts and figures kind of leader, here are research results on the costs of avoiding or not having a difficult conversation:

“Employees waste an average of $1500 and an 8-hour workday for every conversation they avoid or don’t have.” Additionally, respondents shared that they may ruminate about these types of conversations for more than 6 months! (Source: VitalSmarts)

All that ruminating sounds draining just thinking about it. And, it saps a lot of energy that could be used elsewhere in the business.

Have the Conversation

So, how to recapture that well of energy and have the conversation you may be tempted to avoid?

-We can take the advice of Bob Newhart acting as a counselor in his TV show when he says “Just Stop It,” but that likely won’t work.

-We can tell ourselves to “Just Do It,” but if we’re avoiding the conversation in the first place, appealing to the Nike swoosh will likely not help much either.

-Instead, consider the following:

1.    Try to get clear on why you’re uncomfortable or putting off the conversation. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the words to begin the conversation, you’re not sure about the likelihood of getting the outcome you’d like, or maybe a previous experience with the individual didn’t go so well? There are many reasons, but getting clear around what’s keeping you from moving forward is a great first step.

2.    You can likely reframe the way you’re thinking about it. A client once shared that it felt like every difficult conversation was an “ultimatum conversation.” On reframing, she started thinking about difficult conversations as discussions, not ultimatums, and she became more comfortable. Starting with this reframe and a positive brain will help you and the other individual have a successful dialogue.

3.    Depending on the level of importance, schedule a meeting to have the conversation at a time that is convenient for both (many people are not good off the cuff, especially with a difficult conversation). More structure can help.

4.    Don’t let time slip away between an issue that needs to be addressed and the discussion about it. Otherwise, it can feel more difficult, it takes more energy, and worse, issues can grow more complex. To schedule something by phone, say something as simple as; “Hey, I’d like to check in with you about X this afternoon.” Then, express your positive intent so you can keep your employee/colleague from entering the “fight, flight or freeze” zone. It’s hard to reassure via email. Phone or in person is best, even to set up a short meeting for an uncomfortable conversation.

5.    From a strategic standpoint, think about how you want to start the conversation and what your goal is. If you’ll be giving what feels like difficult feedback, please throw out the “feedback sandwich.” People usually appreciate a direct approach, even when it doesn’t feel great in the moment. Be direct, and caring, as much as possible, but not “blunt.” (I often hear people describe themselves as blunt. Direct works. Blunt doesn’t.)

6.    Start the conversation with an open mind and ramp up your listening skills. An open mind and sharp listening skills help you fill in blind spots, as you may hear perspectives you were not previously aware of. You will then be able to speak with a broader understanding, and make sure you are heard. You can lead with something like “I want to talk with you about your work on project X. What are your thoughts about it?” or, “I want to share an observation with you about your work on project X.” or, “I’ve noticed that your work on this project is not aligning with what we agreed upon…”

7.    As the discussion progresses, you can inquire about how the individual is processing the discussion. “How do you see it?” “What are your thoughts about this,” or, “What direction should we move in from here?” Regardless, listen, make sure your message is clear by confirming understanding, and that you address the situation directly.

8.    If accountability is in the mix, close the discussion by confirming you are both on the same page, and identify commitments or forward steps.

There are many scenarios and approaches for these types of discussions. While these examples may not fit like a glove, they can help you think more strategically about the conversations you need to have.

Have the conversations. Tackle thorny business issues. Recapture energy and use it elsewhere.

Just Do It. 😉

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