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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.
Balance between Care and Candor
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.
The 3 A’s: Your Leader’s Roadmap to Mastering Difficult Conversations
The 3 A’s model is a great little roadmap that as a leader I could sit down and asked myself these three questions before I have that conversation and it would almost build the structure of my conversation. I want to know what is it exactly I’m addressing, what is the problem, and I then I will define it clearly.
How does it apply to the care and candor aspect that we’re looking at?
Caring values the person, the individual him/herself, while candor values the person’s potential.
Trust and Care – First thing that we have to remember as leaders is that trust is the foundation of our relationships. If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive conflict. We will just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony. Trust and care for your people on your team is the foundation to all influence that you build. They have to know that you have their best interest in mind. Whether it’s a change, whether it’s a tough conversation. The first thing that people are going to think to themselves is: what did I do? Or how does this affect me? And if as a leader, you’d built a foundational level to have that trust and that care, they’re going to trust you and they’re going to know that you have their benefit in mind.
Growth Mindset – You’ve got to understand that you have to have these conversations because you want your team, your leadership, your organization to be in a growth mindset. And, if they don’t grow or they don’t change, they’re going to become irrelevant. And, the only way for them to grow or to change, as a leader, your responsibility is to have those conversations with your team.
One thing, John’s taught me, is that caring establishes the relationship while candor can expand and will direct the Relationship.
You can’t lead people until you like people. Why? Because the leader begins to influence people with relationship, not with just position. Building relationships develops a foundation for effectively leading others. It also breaks down organizational silos as your people connect across the lines between their job descriptions or departments. When people feel respected, liked, cared for, included, valued and trusted, they begin to work together with their leaders and each other. Finding common ground and care will help you establish the relationship.
Now, those things usually aren’t enough to make a relationship grow. To expand a relationship, candor and open communication are required. I could find common ground with you or one of my team members and I could show them care, but our relationship’s not going to grow outside of that. The only way it’s really going to grow is if, as a leader I answered the questions that you put in front of us. I speak your language, show candor with them and I have open communication, continuous and open feedback.
Bottom line. Good leaders must embrace both care and candor. You can’t ignore either. When you think about expanding the relationship, think back to some of the difficult conversations people have had with you and as long as it was done the right way, think about your relationship with that leader now versus before some of those conversations. Because coming out of it right, we’re going to grow, we’re going to learn, and on the other side of the way, while it may not be comfortable in the moment, okay, after the moment and the growth that occurs, you’re going to look back and be thankful for it.
So, to you help you keep the balance between the two, see four tips that I’ve learned from John to manage a difficult conversation. We keep them in somewhat of a format and a structure of how we do things.
We say we -> Do it quickly, Do it Calmly, Do it Privately and Do it thoughtfully.
The last thing that I would tell you that all of this is a two-way street. I think if you want to be effective as a leader and you want to continue to grow in your influence, you must invite others to be candid with you.
HCCI is recognized by SHRM to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for the SHRM-CPSM or SHRM-SCPSM.
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