How Best Leaders Have Difficult Conversations
I was delighted when Kim Scott's book Radical Candor came out as I heartily share her views on candid conversations. To me it really is an art, not a science!
Just like art, you get better the more you do it. While there may be steps to take, you only develop comfort for 'uncomfortable discourse' as you practice doing it.
I'm not telling you it will be easy. After all, it does conflict with what your Momma taught you - 'if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all'. But when you become a leader, just as Kim says ' it’s your job to speak up--and it's your obligation'.
It is through the difficult and candid conversations that we grow to be better.
I use a 6-step model for difficult conversations. I fundamentally believe that the best leaders - a Kick-Ass Leader - should be well prepped to take on even the most awkward discussion!
Dots 6 Step Model To Difficult Discussions
I've been using this model long before Radical Candor was a book; it's tried and tested to get through nerve-racking conversations!
Follow these steps to see for yourself:
1. SET THE TONE
It may seem redundant to let people know this will be a difficult conversation, but by preparing the recipient to hear something they don't necessarily want to hear, it lays the foundation to listen more intently.
Depending on the sensitivity of the topic, state it directly (for highly sensitive) - 'This is going to be a difficult discussion', 'I have something difficult to talk about', OR less directly (for less not so sensitive) - establishing two-way dialogue beginning with an open question 'How do you think the meeting went?'.
Either way it gives you the opportunity to set the tone and pave the way into more difficult dialogue.
2. BEGIN WITH KINDNESS
Again I agree with Kim Scott, if the intent of your discussion is to embarrass or take down your team member a peg or two, then you lose the element of humanity that we all need, especially at work. No one listens to the obnoxiously aggressive leader!
Kindness is the key! Be considerate of the person you're speaking to. Put your self in their shoes, before you have the convo! Empathize how they may be feeling? Consider how you show care to keep their dignity intact?
3. BE RESPECTFUL
Stick to the facts when dealing with touchy subjects. This is not the time to make generalizations or judgements. 'I noticed the CEO stopped listening and started looking at email when you were talking' (FACT) instead of 'You totally lost the audience' (GENERALIZATION) or 'The CEO didn't like you' (JUDGEMENT).
Pause and listen for reaction, or probe further 'what were your observations' 'what did you think about that'? Don't assume you know everything, sometimes there are additional facts you need to take into consideration - perhaps before you were in the room the CEO apologized that he had to keep an eye on his email as a big issue was underway!
4. HAVE COURAGE
Many leaders avoid uncomfortable conversations or tackling tough issues more directly. Unfortunately this avoidance can lead others to see you as a push-over, we quickly lose respect for leaders who don't address the 'elephant in the room'!
It is your job to lead others. Put aside your fear of not being liked, take a deep breath and just do it!
5. BE CONSISTENT
A common pet peeve many employees share is preferential treatment to the 'golden employee'. Lack of fairness comes up time and again as a significant engagement killer.
You are always under scrutiny, and it is noticeable if you follow through with one team member but not another on the same issue.
By being consistent, you develop trust - a core foundation for high performance teams. Set some standards that everyone needs to honour and hold everyone to them! This predictability also minimizes stress in the work environment.
6. TAKE ACTION
For behavioural change to be effective, correction needs to be timely. Don't save these dirty little bombs up for performance review time. Take action immediately. We all want to succeed so be the leader that gives your team a chance to course correct.
Find the right setting for difficult conversations - pull the person aside, find a quiet corner (in an open environment) or step out for a coffee out of earshot from others.
Don't wait for your next one-on-one or for them to ask you for feedback, it is all up to you to make the first move!
Don't Lose Sleep
The best leaders make a practice of being candid with their teams. The team comes to know you have their back and want the best from them and quickly understand that these difficult conversations actually help them grow and improve - when that is your intention and you prepare accordingly.
When you let ugly issues fester, you will lose sleep and so will your team! Start today to cross these off your list ASAP.
If you need professional guidance on prepping for a difficult conversation or you want to bounce ideas with an experienced coach, I am an email away!
Elaine Adamson is a leadership consultant with Dots Leadership Solutions Inc. A natural dot connector. Passionate about coaching team effectiveness and leadership development she shares over 25+ years of real-life tips and tricks that really work!
Elaine believes you can discover and leverage strengths to forge a strong team dynamic despite business challenges or organizational change.