One of the hardest parts of running a business or being a leader is having hard conversations. It can be a daily battle to not get triggered when people do and say things that push your buttons. Often, it’s about standing in your truth and facing uncomfortable feelings and addressing things immediately. We are running a training course so you can learn all our tips and tricks on how to deal with this, so if your in and want the shortcut then go sign up right now here.
Otherwise read on, and I will share my tips through this blog and example. I personally know this is hard because I have faced this conundrum myself, and the more people you have working for you the bigger this problem becomes. And it’s not only your employees it can be clients and suppliers that you need to have confronting conversations with. This is an important skill to have in business, but most people I know are terrified of having conflicts or speaking their truth when shit gets weird or hard. So most people, push aside their feelings and avoid the conversation like the plague. It’s a form of people pleasing really, as you don’t want to offend the other person so the conflict remains unresolved bubbling away in the background and the ripple effects can be massive.
My advice is that it’s important to check yourself each time you are triggered by an employee or client and ask yourself why? Ask yourself… what is going on for me around this issue? Why am I reacting in this way. Mostly it will be about boundaries, and or a values issue. For example when an employee shares something inappropriate in a group setting that is in direct conflict to your personal or company values. This may lead to you personally feeling offended or other employees feeling uncomfortable or both.
To give you an example when I worked in Corporate HR I had a young Graduate reporting to me who was really ambitious. He was also obscenely competitive and saw me as the competition rather than a mentor or someone who was helping him develop and grow. I was actually focusing real hard to give this young gun all the opportunities I could, as they were super smart and had enormous potential. Problem was they also had a massive ego, and a dominant personality to match. I would often give him projects or assignments way above his capability to stretch him (as this is what he asked me to do) and I allowed him the chance to present in meetings all the time so he could have the spotlight and he ate it all up. But it wasn’t enough for him, and maybe by me giving him these opportunities it all went to his head? Anyways, he would often undermine me in meetings by disagreeing with my advice to our leadership team. One specific time I was giving some advice around making an employee redundant, and he very belligerently challenged what I was saying and disagreed with everything I was proposing. Now I don’t have a problem with being challenged as I feel like robust debates are necessary in any setting or workplace. But it was the way that he did it, and it made everyone feel uncomfortable as he was out of line. He was flat out trying to humiliate me in a group setting to raise his own status. (He did this often but this time it was off the charts). I waited until the meeting finished and then immediately asked him to come into my office to chat about how the meeting had gone. Inwardly I was actually shitting myself, as I knew it was going to be a really hard situation but I had to say something or else I was going to blow up.
So I sat him down and gave him honest feedback that his behaviour was out of line, and that it seemed like he was actively trying to undermine me in public in front of our Regional General Manager. I brought up a few other examples that illustrated my point and what happened next shocked me. He actually burst into tears when I challenged him and he acknowledged that his behaviour was wrong. He was so embarrassed that I called him out and I then explained the broader impact of his conduct. Safe to say it never happened again and he actually respected me so much more from that moment on. This was a boundaries issue for me, and I was clearly giving him a message that he crossed by boundary around trust. I actually said to him that it concerned me that he was speaking to me in the way he was in public so I could not even imagine what he was saying when I wasn’t there. He went bright red, so I can only assume he was bagging me out behind my back as well. I reminded him of all the support, training and development that I had given him since I had been his Leader. I also reminded him that if we are not a united front then we both have no credibility with our clients and then no one wins. I also explained how his behaviour was denigrating people’s trust in him by behaving the way that he was. It was a hard lesson for him to learn, as I was holding a mirror up and showing him the impacts of his behaviour but he made a massive leap that day and I know it was hard but everyone benefited from that very difficult conversation. He apologised to me again the next day, as he said he went home and reflected on what he had been doing and how it could have been perceived by others. He was mortified and really embarrassed. He also said that he was really conscious of the fact that I had given him so many opportunities and he must have seemed ungrateful.
The key learning for me was that if you let things stew or fester, they do just that. In hindsight I should have nipped it in the bud the first time it happened. So, the best way to tackle these situations is to have the difficult conversation as soon as possible after you feel the strange emotion or observe the inappropriate behaviour. It’s like ripping a band aid off, the longer you put it off the harder and bigger the issue becomes in your head.
Trust me, the quicker you resolve things the better you will feel and the more able you will be to stay calm and not lash out when you let things build up.#ibeenthere. So I now want to share with you what I have learned through personal experience and hours and hours of training and practice. These right here are my top tips for having difficult conversations:
- Do it quickly – don’t leave it for too long or you will avoid doing it all together
- Do it in private. My rule of thumb is praise in public, criticise in private.
- Be honest but kind. Tell them what the problem is, why this is a problem, how it impacted you and or the team and how you would like it to be
- Listen – it’s important to get their side of the story and be open to having a conversation
- Paraphrase back to them to clarify – So what I’m hearing is…
- Close the loop – don’t end the conversation until it’s resolved or if there are still uncomfortable feelings involved. Don’t run you need to stay until the end.
- Practice makes perfect – the more you do it the less daunting it will become and the better you will get!
I know it’s not easy but the more often you take the bull by the horns and have the conversation, the easier it will be for you and your teams. Resolving conflict is like a muscle, the more you use it they stronger the muscle becomes. It need not be a massive deal, and your culture will improve because you will resolve conflicts as they arise which creates an environment of honesty and trust. You are also role modelling positive behaviour for your people if you do this well, this will give them the courage to also do the same! I am sure you have experienced this before where you avoid the conversation and it builds up in your head so much so that it makes you feel crazy. Then when you finally have the conversation you feel a massive weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
I know I make it sound easy, and there is a bit of a formula to doing this properly, so we have taken all our strategies and learnings and developed a really fun and practical Training Session to assist our clients Have Difficult Conversations with ease.
It’s online and delivered in a bite sized chunk of 90 minutes, so if you or your leaders need support around building this skill then get around it. We even have a group booking discount! To learn more about what will be covered and book click right here.
You will walk away with a whole heap of tools and templates to assist you in having hard conversations on a daily basis. We will do some demos, and give you the opportunity to practice with other participants as well! We also have some great questions to ask, and scripts for tackling difficult situations. Sounds cool, then sign up peeps spaces are limited.
Written by Head Guru Emily Jaksch