Module 36 - How to have a difficult conversation. Steps to prepare and conduct an effective conversation, regardless of its complexity
Leadership & Personal Development Series
Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation with someone you either knew or worked with? I have, and I’ll tell you it was not an easy task at first. I was extremely nervous, unprepared to receive push back and objections, and was not sure how to respond. I think that I was even more nervous than then person whom I was addressing. Therefore, do not feel bad if you were in the same situation previously, and definitely do not think that because of such experience you are a bad leader, because, you are not. Since my first experience of having a difficult conversation, I’ve had many more difficult conversations, and I’ll tell you that even today I still feel nervous when I have to have such conversation.
Ability to have an effective difficult conversation is a skill that you can learn and develop with practice.
Difficult conversations are often necessary in order to address and correct someone’s behavior as well as relay critical and important information, something that he or she may not be open to at that time or agree to. However, the conversation still needs to take place, and you are the one who may be required to deliver it.
What are some examples of difficult conversations?
One example is providing constructive feedback to one of your employees or peers, when you know that he or she is not usually open to such feedback. Therefore, is it your responsibility as a leader to determine the best way to have a constructive and often direct conversation with an employee or peer while inspiring him or her to act and move forward, versus remaining where they are or, even worse, going backwards. I’ll discuss ways to have an effective conversation while delivering a constructive feedback a little later.
Another example of a difficult conversation is addressing someone’s inappropriate behavior in a place of business. As leaders we are the ones who must have behavior-addressing conversations, which can be rather challenging at times. The main reason why this type of conversation can be challenging is because you often do not know how another person may react when negative feedback is presented to them. The person to whom you are speaking with may be very positive and open to your feedback and coaching, or he or she may be extremely negative and non-receptive. Therefore, there are several unknowns in the preparation of having a difficult conversation with someone else.
There are, of course, many more examples of difficult conversations that you as a leader may run into, however, my goal is not to list every possible example, but to share some ways that you may use to prepare yourself for difficult conversations, and to ensure that these interactions are productive and encourage action.
I do not know a single person who enjoys having difficult conversations where constructive and often negative feedback must be presented to another person in order to encourage action and/or correct wrong behavior. Of course, we all enjoy having positive conversations where we share some good news with another individual or praising them for an excellent work that they have done. We usually go into these type of conversations without any preparation or any anxiety, because, we know that the person will be very happy to hear good news, there will not be any push back or disagreement, and the person will leave on a very positive note looking forward to meeting with you again. I wish that all of our conversations were very positive, where we only discussed something good, however, that is not always the case. This is actually a good thing that we, as leaders, often have to have difficult conversations, because, if all conversations were positive we would never learn how to overcome our fears of facing another person and presenting negative/constructive feedback to them, and helping people to improve, while addressing their weaknesses and opportunity areas. Additionally, difficult conversations help us, as leaders, to enhance our strengths, overcome various obstacles, and as result we become more confident and respected leaders.
What steps can you take in order to turn negative difficult conversation into productive and action-oriented with a positive focus? How can you go from feeling nervous and unprepared to confident and knowledgeable by following few simple steps?
I am glad that you asked, because, I am happy to share some of the ways that I use to help me overcome the challenge of difficult conversations and converting them into conversations that you lead with confidence and people focus.
Steps to prepare and conduct an effective conversation, regardless of its complexity:
The steps that I have shared with you are the steps that I use when I need to have a difficult conversation with another person. Following these steps helps me to structure my conversation, maintain my confidence, display a deep level of knowledge of the specific situation, and relate my sincere care and desire to help to the person with whom I am speaking with.
You can’t always control how the person will react to the information/coaching presented after the conversation, but you can control how you interact and present yourself during and after the conversation.
Be the confident leader that you are, and lead by example at all times.times.