In our latest blog post, Barb Krantz Taylor spoke about the damages that can occur when leaders are not direct with each other. The proverbial “Minnesota Nice” approach. The examples she provided show that the ripple effects move throughout the entire team, if not the entire organization. Issues get slowly worse, more individuals/functions get involved, trust is eroded, your best employees are irritated that the CEO or other leaders aren’t fixing this, and they eventually leave. Business results erode.
It’s time to change. Yes, change is not easy, and it is hard work, but it is clear that the benefits outweigh the costs.
As Barb mentioned, there is both a science and an art to handling these types of conversations. The good news is both can be learned. Below are some tips to help you get started.
The first step is adopting the right mindset. If you approach the situation with fear and dread, it will be painful. If you come in ready for a fight, it will be painful. However, if you adapt a mindset that this is an opportunity to drive greater alignment and cooperation, what kind of feelings does that bring up? Hope, encouragement? Maybe even excitement to clear out the roadblocks that are or might be in the way? Not only does setting a positive mindset upfront help frame the situation, it also sets your demeanor for the conversation. For many, our feelings come out in subtle ways through our tone, our body language, our choice of words, and even how we start the conversation. Entering the conversation with positivity will set a positive tone for non-verbal cues.
Next, understand the emotions you bring into the conversation. We have feelings around the things that led up to the conversation. Those feelings need to be understood and acknowledged. Others also have this “emotional baggage.” Reflect on what it might be for the other person. Once you are aware, ask yourself if it is something you want to acknowledge in the conversation. Can you set it aside or will it arise in subtle ways in the conversation? You will then be able to focus on the facts, on what occurred versus your perception of it.
Consider also the intent you are attributing to the other person. Challenge whether this is real or perceived intent. How do you know that this was the other person’s intent? What facts can you point to that support that conclusion? To help you, bring in a trusted friend to challenge what might be real or perceived.
During the conversation, seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Slow down and listen with honest curiosity. Be open to how both their truth and your truth may be true. Apply the “yes, and technique” from improvisational comedy. This concept involves accepting what another person has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”). This will help you see possible compromises.
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect and learn. Think about and write down what went well and what didn’t go well. Identify what you want to do differently next time.
With some diligence and effort, social norms can change in your workplace. As a leader, you set the example and expectation around constructive discourse in your teams. If you would like help with how to approach difficult conversations, send me an email or give me a call!