I love difficult conversations – said no one ever.
But when you’re a leader, difficult conversations are part of the deal. And these days, they’re made even more difficult by the fact that we can’t even have them in person, and pick up on nuances and read each other’s cues.
Still, difficult conversations are not going anywhere soon. So how can we approach them?
There’s no magical solution that will make a difficult conversation pleasant, but approaching them with a clear plan in mind will help you.
My first and favourite piece of advice is the reframe. Let’s be honest, you’re likely heading into this conversation with some negative feelings. And no matter how good you might think you are at disguising them, they will show up and hijack the course of the conversation.
When we haven’t seen each other in person for a while, we might lose the sense of who and how a person really is. Or maybe we’ve never even met them in real life. So I encourage you to take a step back and assume the best intent.
And even when you don’t like someone, or you find them difficult, you can reframe that. You don’t have to like them or be friends, but you can recognise their skills or the role they play in the team.
Because if you go into the conversation feeling really negative about someone…they will know it.
Planning the conversation is also critical when you’re having a difficult conversation. When you do it online, you really need to check in that you can have their full attention; that they don’t need to accept deliveries, that they’re not heading straight into a homeschooling scenario after your chat. Their environment (home schooling, other things they’re juggling during this time) may add stress to the conversation, so be mindful of that.
Remember to let them know what they can expect in the conversation, so they have a bit of a heads up and are not taken by surprise when you meet.
And don’t forget, if you won’t be running into them around the office, then it’s even more important that you check back in with them after the conversation and see how they’re going, how they’re taking it all on board.
And the conversation itself? In Lead and Influence, we have a template that we use to structure these conversations (let me know if you want me to send it to you). It’s all about explaining how you see the impact of their actions, and then giving them the space to receive the information before they answer.
And then stop and listen. Make sure they feel heard. It’s just as difficult being on the receiving end of these conversations, so bring your empathy and kindness, so you can build trust with them.
Oh, and don’t forget to try and catch people doing the right thing before you catch them doing the wrong thing.
So there you are…difficult conversations may be easier with these tools in mind:
1) reframe the person
2) reframe the situation
3) plan the conversation
4) follow a conversation structure
I hope this helps you head into your next difficult conversation with a bit more confidence and ease.