Mastering Difficult Conversations: That’s a skill that most leaders hope they don’t need, but it’s one I found that you often have to have some expertise at. It is a skill I found that you really have to develop. It doesn’t come naturally. We don’t want to do that, and I think that as a leader, it’s our responsibility.
Every person needs to improve and needs someone to come alongside them to help them improve. As a leader, it is your responsibility and your privilege to be the person who helps them get better. That often begins with a candid conversation.
Before you have this conversation, it helps to ask yourself what the nature of the problem might be. I first ask myself a simple question. “Is this person a can’t or won’t?” Can’t is about abilities. We can help these kinds of individuals in most cases—not in all cases, but in most. But won’t is about attitude. If the issue is attitude, the time to let that person know there is a problem is NOW, because here’s the thing…I have seen throughout the years that many organizations tend to hire for what people know and fire them for who they are.” Attitude.
I believe that people can change their attitude and can improve their abilities. I have seen it. And, because I do, I talk to them about where they are coming up short. If you are a leader and you want to help people, you need to be willing to have those tough conversations. Take the time to have an open, honest, genuine conversation with them. I have seen so many leaders skip this step. They just go straight and fire them before having an honest and genuine conversation.
In the 5 Levels of Leadership, John introduces this concept of the balance of care and candor and he says that if you’re always providing care with no candor, you’re really developing a dysfunctional relationship, but if you are all candor but no care, you will produce a distant relationship. And neither one of those as a leader or as a team, as an organization are good. So, we need to figure out how do we balance care and candor to create lasting, productive relationships as a team member.
I often, when I think about striking a balance between Care and Candor, whether it’s in a meeting, 1:1, daily or weekly check-ins conversations, I always think about and say these three words to my leaders “listen, learn, then lead.” Oftentimes, what we want to do is just hear, we don’t learn anything, and we still lead or have conversations the way we want to.
Why do we avoid these situations? Why do we not have the conversation when we need to have it? Oftentimes we don’t want to engage in a conversation out of fear of what the results of that conversation will be and I think it as a leader, you lose credibility when you do not have those conversations.
I think I’ve heard John say that when people know there’s a problem. They want to know that you know there’s a problem, step up to it and deal with it.
So, if you could keep that thought process in your mind and understand that the individual needs you to have that conversation with them, the team needs you to have the conversation with that individual and the organization needs you to have it. Plus, the fact that your leadership credibility is on the line the longer that you wait to have that conversation. I know, it’s just not natural for us. We don’t wake up every morning and get excited about going to work and having to have a difficult conversation. But, needs to get done.
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