Difficult Conversations Are Inevitable
It is natural to want to avoid difficult conversations. Pretend conflict is just temporary. Assume there is no discord in our team. If Difficult Conversations are inevitable, unavoidable, then why is it so hard for us to deal with them?
Difficult Conversation is a necessary evil, yet 66% feel stressed to deal with difficult conversations.
We avoid dealing with them because –
- We think they are confrontational in nature and we want to feel liked and supported by others.
- We lack the ability to convey the message correctly.
- We fear it will upset people and disrupt business.
- We are worried about how the other person will respond. Will they get angry?
- We think it will affect our relationship and impact future work.
Sometimes the most important conversations are the most difficult ones to engage in.– Jeanne Phillips
As Leaders of teams, we dread certain conversations, especially the ones where there is contention, misalignment, disagreement, or sensitive issues at stake. In my 18 years in the Software Industry, I have dealt with many Difficult Conversations. Here are some examples from my experience …
⊗ Team Member, who is aware that his performance has been declining: “So when can I get a performance raise?”
⊗ Team Member who has missed several deadlines and is now adding churn to the team: “I promise, this time it will work. I only need 2 more days to complete this task. My design is better than theirs.”
⊗ New Member on the team: “I don’t like how you guys are doing things in this team. This is not how we did it in my old company.”
⊗ X complains about Y’s code: “Y has been writing overly complex code. It’s hard to read.” Y complains about X’s code: “X is always in a rush. His code is short-sighted. It’s not robust, he has not covered failure use cases.”
⊗ Big Leader up the chain: “Your team’s charter is changing, get ready to give away all the applications you built.”
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. – Dau Voire
Why Is It Important To Have Difficult Conversations?
Some Of My Favorite Books
How To Take Control & Deal with Difficult Conversations
Your team looks to YOU to acknowledge, address and navigate difficult conversations. To help you get over the overwhelm, anxiety, and dread of tackling challenging conversations, here are some strategies to help you.
#1 Build A Culture That Encourages Safety & Candor
#2 Prep For The Conversation
Ask yourself – Is the problem worth addressing? What impact is it having on the team? Is it something that will go away in due course of time? Are you over-reacting? Or does it warrant an immediate discussion?
Are there any past experiences that are relevant to the current problem? Is there some history to this behavior? Has it happened before? Has it been addressed before?
How will you inform them? Will it be a meeting on their calendar? Or are you just planning to grab them at their desk? You don’t want to spring a total surprise and catch them when they are least expecting it. It’s only fair to give them advance notice of a couple of hours so they don’t feel unprepared.
How will you approach the conversation? What will you say to them? Do not give mixed messages. Nobody likes a feedback sandwich. Be honest and candid about the problem you want to discuss.
#3 Get Clear On The Problem
What is the problem about? What happened? What was their intent? What was the impact – impact on themself, impact on the team, impact on the business? When faced with a problem, we have a tendency to make assumptions about behaviors and actions. Be intentional about removing bias when analyzing the situation. Get rid of any assumptions you may be using. Focus only on the facts. The goal of any difficult conversation is to address the problem, learn from it and get better.
#4 Two Sides of a Coin
Every good conversation starts with a good listener.– Anonymous
#5 Listen Intently
#6 No Need For Blame-Game
The two riskiest times in crucial conversations are the beginning and the end.– Excerpt from the book Crucial Conversations
#7 Workout A Solution
- The Decision Maker can be you or the other person. Or it can be your team. Or it can be a Leader or Stakeholder. It’s for you and the other person to hash out who will be the decision maker.
- You may need to brainstorm collectively to determine the best solution. Bear in mind that working out a solution may be a longer process and that’s OK. In my experience, getting clarity, seeking alignment, and setting expectations can be done in one session. I usually need a separate session to hash out the solution, create milestones and action items. But it has to be a solution that’s fair and acceptable to both parties.
Once you have decided on a solution, be sure to create action items. Every action item needs an owner, a date (ETA), and a mechanism for sharing updates. Also, be sure to perform periodic follow-ups.
Before an intimidating conversation, I always remind myself that I will be the same person before and after the conversation, no matter the outcome.– Olivia Fay
Don’t Ignore Feelings
Difficult Conversations Are Hard, But They Don’t Have To Be
- Don’t ignore them
- Don’t get judgemental or defensive
- Don’t play the blame-game
- Don’t shy away from telling the truth
- Don’t forget to use data
- Don’t be closed to hearing the other person
- Don’t interrupt the other person
- Don’t use your power to gain control
- Don’t get upset, angry, or scared
- Don’t forget the goal is to resolve, learn and improve
- Don’t forget to follow up
Focus on problem-solving and learning. Think of how you would like to be treated during a Difficult Conversation. Use the same parameters for the other person. Apply the strategies from the post and make Difficult Conversations an important and successful mechanism on your team.
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