When you’re a leader, hard conversations are part of the job.
As a leader, you’re required to get results through people which means holding them accountable for accomplishing the goals of the organization and doing it in a way that aligns with the company’s culture, policies and values.
And you know what that means when working with human beings who generally don’t enjoy being held accountable and sometimes don’t enjoy working within specified boundaries…
So, because they’re a necessity—how do we do them well? And how do we keep them from spiraling to a point of not being helpful?
The goal in any hard (difficult, sticky, uncomfortable) conversation, where tensions are high, is to do this: RESTORE SAFETY AND CONNECTION… WHILE MAKING PROGRESS.
Here’s a 3-step process you can turn to next time you feel a hard conversation starting to spiral down…
(1) DETERMINE whether the conversation IS actually spiraling. Some people don’t slow down enough to use their emotional intelligence to read the situation. Just because there’s tension doesn’t mean it’s spiraling. So, listen to the language the person is using. Pay attention to their body language and gestures.
(2) If you recognize that the conversation IS spiraling, NAME IT! This is the one most important things you can do. Acknowledge the discomfort, frustration—whatever the emotion may be—without judging it. “Hey, I’m sensing/thinking/feeling that our conversation is beginning to spiral in an unhealthy direction. Are you noticing that, or is it just me?” And then ask, “What could we say, do, or think differently together to get our conversation back on track?”
(3) DECIDE *together* about the best way forward. It’s not just about what you need out of the conversation. It’s also about recognizing what the other person needs in that moment. Be respectful and be willing to give them some space if that’s what the moment calls for. But also make sure you move in the direction that you as the leader need to go. And come to a place of agreement on those next steps.
Sometimes, we take the human-ness out of leadership. When we have sticky/hard/difficult conversations, we have to remember—people are people. They have a life outside of work, they have a unique personality and biases and past experiences that influence the way they interact in different situations.
The default thought process of: “It’s just business, it’s not personal…” isn’t effective. It is never JUST business. It is always personal because it involves a person.
The most important thing we can do as leaders is remember that PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE and care for them that way. We can’t forget our employees’ humanity as we seek to drive results and problem-solve.