Have you ever developed such a strong argument for avoiding something that you are completely convinced you are right? Even though, deep down there is little niggle that tugs at you to say it knows the truth? This can happen especially when the thing we are avoiding is having a ‘difficult’ conversation with another person. It’s hard enough in our private lives, but when we are leaders in a business it’s not something we can avoid.
Read on and you might just notice some common ‘reasons’ (which is really just a fancy way of saying ‘excuses’) that you might be arguing for. Let me assure you though – if you do, then your thinking is missing the mark.
Misconception #1 – It Will Be Better Left Until A ‘Formal’ Performance Review
Have you ever heard a strange noise in your car that you decided to ignore? The thought of having to phone to book it in for a service just felt too hard so you kept driving. Plus, who has the time anyway! Then when you walk out to the car park after a late night working back there it is – a flat tyre. Now it’s a whole new level of hard as you wait in the cold for the mobile mechanic to come and help you fix it.
Putting off a difficult conversation is the same kind of thing. Not addressing it immediately will mean it builds to become something that you let worry you. Or worse still, you talk yourself out of it by the time you sit down for the review conversation because it happened so long ago. Neither of these options will address the issue. Not only are you letting yourself down as a leader, you are also letting the other person down by not giving them a chance to change their behaviour.
Misconception #2 – It Will Escalate Into Conflict And Ruin The Relationship
Sometimes the most difficult times in a relationship or marriage can result in a much closer and stronger bond. The issues, once resolved, allows each of you to have a deeper understanding of where the other person is coming from. And you are grateful that you worked through it because you feel so much better.
When you address a difficult conversation in the workplace, the same thing happens. If you decide to face it and prepare for it, then you are creating the best opportunity to better understand the other person, and therefore increase your bond. Everybody wants to be understood and appreciated. If your intent is solely about helping them improve their performance and sense of belonging in the team, then you are giving them a gift.
Misconception #3 – Talking About The Problem Will Make The Problem Worse
“Don’t mention the war!” I know of families who have this running theme about conflict between relatives. And I have never seen this thinking improve their relationships. You see, usually what they are avoiding is feeling the emotions of the conversation that escalated out of control, rather than the issue itself.
If you are fully prepared, guiding the conversation and following up, then you are focussing more on the solution to the problem, rather than the problem itself. The focus is on the result, a way forward and a way to support the other person to perform at their best. Coming from this place will see the problem being addressed fully, or else it progresses to the next phase. Regardless, the outcome will be moving them towards the behaviour you want to see.
Misconception #4 – Nothing Will Change
The culture of some workplaces, especially where the employees have worked there for a long time, is “we’ve done that before, it doesn’t work”. Creating change in a change resistant team is the challenge of a great leader. And so what typically happens for those who stay stuck in a place of fear or avoidance, is they start thinking the same way. “Why bother, nothing will change?” And so, they are proven right. Nothing addressed. Nothing changed.
As leaders, it’s up to us to live and breath the culture we want to see in our teams. Even when you think you are not being watched, you are. I remember a mentor of mine telling me once that when you become a leader you become dinner table conversation in your team members’ homes. Make sure the conversation is one you are proud of! It’s your ability to do the hard stuff, as well as the fun stuff, that is noticed. It may not be obvious to you. It will be to your team, so be the change you want to create.
Misconception #5 – It’s Going To Be Awkward Or Painful
For some, the thought of having the ‘birds and the bees’ talk to their children is enough to leave them running in the other direction! It’s like being pregnant and waiting to give birth – you know the day will come but you want to bury your head in the sand until you have to face the pain! So when your pre-pubescent child asks the curious question, a cringe-worthy conversation ensues. They sense the fear in you from a mile away!
Perhaps the biggest reason for feeling awkward is actually just a disguise for feeling uncertain. I’m not talking about the ‘adventure and fun’ aspect of uncertainty, I’m referring to the ‘out of my depth’ version. Many people are driven by a need to feel certain in order to feel comfortable and in control. Putting in the time to prepare gives you the best opportunity to create that sense of certainty for yourself. And from a place of certainty, your whole experience will change.
Misconception #6 – It Only Focuses On The Negative
Let’s face it, at times we can jump to the conclusion that because we are about to have a “difficult” conversation, it’s going to be a negative experience. Somebody makes a mistake that results in poor customer service. A team member is snappy and moody, causing others to tiptoe around them. It could be misconduct, in direct violation of your work rules. When we just look at this behaviour alone, we make assumptions that it going to be all bad.
However, that doesn’t mean the whole conversation revolves around this particular topic. Balancing the discussion with noticing the great things that person does to add value to the team and the business is a good place to start. Talk about how this particular bit of feedback is not a reflection of who they are normally. Remember to acknowledge their strengths as these could assist them create change in the area of concern. It’s your role as a leader to encourage growth through support, and using a strengths-based approach to your discussion will assist you achieve this.
Want to find out more about how to be successful at difficult conversations? Download your free eBook “Difficult Conversations. Not So Difficult After All!” and keep close by as a handy reference guide.
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