Facing reality – when difficult conversations are important
Yesterday my colleagues were all discussing the “issues” underpinning a specific client’s business dilemma – the need to change or continue to lose market share. Everything was discussed – the systems, the processes, what was “business as usual”. I was firmly advocating that the organisation’s culture required a review. The firm was allowing behaviours which were perpetuating poor and inconsistent performance. Everyone in the organisation was shying away from confronting difficult conversations. So, poor behaviours were tolerated and inconsistent performance persisted.
Do not avoid or postpone difficult conversations. We all reach a stage where we have to have them. We dread them. We procrastinate. We try to find another way out. It is essential to take control. Have that conversation but do it properly and positively.
I went through this recently with a member of staff internally and also with a business partner. One of our country manager roles had become redundant due to a strategy change. We had a collaboration with a business which was not being transparent in joint business activities and I had to point out this was unacceptable.
Our business team kept reminding me that our partner’s behaviour was unacceptable. They had made commitments and were not delivering. I kept finding reasons to put it off and was relieved when the calls I made did not go through. The HR team kept reminding me to close that redundancy conversation but I felt uncomfortable.
Both these scenarios were tough. If they had not been resolved in a timely fashion, it would have only exacerbated the situation. So, I thought I would share my guidelines to help you:
- Set a date
- Decide on a closure date in the same week. Schedule it.
- Prepare yourself
- Be clear about what you need to achieve. Your preparation and speech should be designed to fulfil that outcome.
- Be transparent about the “why”
- Talk about the impact of the behaviour. “Why” is very important to maintain your resolve. It helps to manage any doubts before, during or after the conversation.
- Put yourself in their shoes
- Think through the conversation from the other person’s perspective. Remember you have got used to the idea; it may be a surprise for them. What will their emotional state be? What are their options?
- Cover all eventualities – no surprises
- Ensure that everyone in the decision making process is aware of the situation, what you plan to say and understand why. Always have specific information to support your case.
- Write down the key issues before you have the conversation
- Intentions are irrelevant. The words that you use are really important.
- Listen to them – hear them out
- Understand the emotional components of any conversation and acknowledge the recipient’s concerns.
- Don’t rush the conversation
- If you are just looking for a fast closure you will find that a number of things are left up in the air.
- Don’t be defensive
- Arguing your case is a lose-lose approach. It will cause discord and loss of face for both parties.
- Close conclusively
- Understanding may differ. Repeat what you both discussed, agree upon the conclusions and be clear about next steps.
It is only human to avoid conflict or confrontation. Believe it or not, people will respect you more if you have those difficult conversations in a positive way. As you implement change in your organisation, difficult conversations will be inevitable. So, practise, practise, and practise. It will only get easier.
This article is correct at August 2020