Difficult Conversations – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: September 1, 2018

Social researchers in academia, human resource consultants, and our own personal experience would say that the vast majority of us avoid and delay having the difficult conversation to address lingering frustrations in the workplace.

As leaders in the workplace, we often delay having the difficult performance discussion or avoid addressing the occasional behavioral problem with an employee until it is just unavoidable, and the team or project has been significantly impacted.

The reality of leadership is that we will have a steady flow of opportunities to have difficult conversations. 

To ensure the optimal health of an organization, the wisdom of experienced executives and top talent would say having the courage to put the difficult conversation on the table sooner rather than later is the most effective choice for the individual, team, and sustainability of the business.

Below are some habits of successful Executives and Top Talent who are effective at having the difficult conversation today rather than tomorrow:

  1. Acknowledge the Truth. It is not easy to effectively have these types of discussions. The work environment is often complex, disruptive, and painful. Addressing difficult issues does not come with paint-by-numbers instructions. It is not perfect, but it needs to be experienced, not avoided.
  1. Begin the Dialogue. When we avoid addressing the problem, we often create more problems. Unresolved issues do not go away, they just rear themselves in other ways. As leaders, we learn and grow as we address challenges, so get started.
  1. Shared Accountability. Effective executives and top talent acknowledge both parties have behaviors that contributed something to the problem. As leaders, the willingness to acknowledge our own shortcomings in a situation is often a helpful start to a productive discussion.
  1. Intent, Understanding, and Behaviors form the Foundation. (A) It is important to be genuine in our intent to move the relationship forward in a healthy way to achieve the long-term goals of the team and the individual. (B) Seek understanding first as we do not see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are, and our experiences and attitudes bring about a host of preconceived notions and biases. (C) Be clear about addressing the behaviors without making a sweeping condemnation of the individual’s character or potential. 
  1. Set the Example. As a backdrop to having these individual difficult conversations, we may often find ourselves in a tough spot in the overall business which adds to the pressure and urgency around having a difficult conversation. We will learn and grow through addressing difficult issues and even if they don’t get adequately resolved (which many may not), we will be setting a great example for others to follow in that we don’t give up.

Executives and Top Talent who delay and continue to avoid having the difficult conversation will be less effective in leading their teams to sustain top performance in the marketplace.  We all need to muster the courage to have the difficult conversation sooner and build a healthy environment for our teams to reach their full potential. 

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say?  Here are a few resources to help:

  1. Download FREE resources at www.harvesttimepartners.com  
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275

David Esposito

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