Thought Leadership

Four Ways To Approach Difficult Conversations As A Leader

Gwyneth Paltrow, American Actress, said, “You’re not learning anything unless you’re having the difficult conversations.”


And rightly so, not having difficult conversations has proven costly for organisations around the world. A CPP Inc. study of workplace conflict revealed that employees in the United States of America spent roughly 2.8 hours every week dealing with conflict. Thirty-three per cent of employees report that the conflict led to personal injury and attacks, and 22 percent report that it led to illness and absence from work. Ten percent reported that project failure was a direct result of the conflict. At the same time, a study by Psychometrics in Canada showed that 32 percent of employees have to deal with conflict regularly. More alarming is a recent survey by Accenture, revealing that 35 percent of employees leave their jobs voluntarily because of internal politics even in this challenging economic climate.

Instead of avoiding difficult conversations, find the courage to start constructively confronting people with skill and empathy. Here are a few ways to approach difficult conversations


1. Focus On Adding Value To Both Parties

Before approaching someone to have a difficult conversation, ask yourself the true intent of the meeting; is it due to your dislike towards the person or is it a genuine conflict that needs resolving. Assess how this conversation can add value to you, the person, and the organisation as a whole. Larry Boyer, Trusted Advisor at Success Rockets LLC, said, “If you need to have a conversation that is difficult for you, start with asking yourself why you need to have the conversation. When you can answer that question yourself, you may find the conversation is not as difficult as you fear.”


2. Be Empathetic And Show That You Care

Remember that this conversation is a two-way street. Start by asking how they are doing? How do they like their work? Any feedback they would have for you or the organisation? Then proceed to give your feedback about their performance or the issue that you want to discuss. By doing this, it won’t come across as a personal attack and rather as an attempt to help them grow in their field and improve their performance. Danielle Allen, the Managing Partner at Building Impact, says, “When we’re receiving bad news, we tend to block out positive things, including our relationship with the person delivering it. So I start here and I then try to be as direct and succinct as possible on what the bad news is and what the implications are for the person.”



3. Practice And Prepare For The Conversation

This is a very effective method, always start by writing down what you are going to say and the goal of the conversation. You can even make this more effective by role-playing with a friend or colleague; they can give you insights and feedback about what to say and help you gain skills for the future. Daisy Jing, Founder and CEO of Banish, says, “I rehearse whatever I say. I list and break down the things I have to discuss to avoid distraction and saying hurtful things that may cause further issues or conflict.”


4. Have A Positive Attitude

You need to walk into the room with the right attitude. The other person may display emotions ranging from angry to upset, and you cannot take that personally. Be prepared and remember always to stay calm and composed. Stephanie Wells, Founder of Formidable Forms, says, “You need to prepare yourself and the other person for difficult news by having a positive attitude and practicing patience. They may not like what you have to say, but it’s important to remain calm and firm.”


In Conclusion

As William Ellery Channing, American Theologian, said, “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” Always approach the problem with empathy and logic, and it will make your team grow more robust in the process.