Tackle Difficult Conversation Head-On To Bolster Teamwork
I'm often confided in for advice about challenges people are having with colleagues. When I ask individuals if they've discussed the issue with the other person, the answer is often, "no".
While difficult conversations are uncomfortable, not having them allows issues to linger and grow. Even more important than raising one, is having courage and candor during the discussion to confront harsh realities.
Creating a culture where difficult conversations are appreciated and respected is the responsibility of everyone on the team. Only by creating a culture of candor and openness can teams resolve conflict and improve teamwork.
Acknowledge Everything Is Not Always Great
As leaders we're often told to create work environments that are positive. While that's ideal in principle, challenges with others, underperformance, and deficiencies in work products are expected and do occasionally happen. Fostering a positive environment is important, but it can't come at the expense of avoiding difficult conversations.
Tackling difficult conversations head-on underpins the best workplace cultures. Addressing challenges with others early-on stops issues from growing and spreading across the team. Instead of working hard to portrait that everything is great, even when it isn't, it's better to accept that some challenges will occur and to be prepared to proactively deal with them when they arise.
Expect You'll Meet Resistance
When approached with difficult conversations, people's fight or flight instinct naturally kicks in. People will often respond with arguments or clam up and seek a way to escape. Expecting these reactions better enables you to overcome them when they happen.
If arguments arise, being calm and matter of fact helps disarm others. It's difficult to argue facts, so sticking to them helps minimize emotional response and steers the conversation to focus solely on the factual aspects of the situation.
Being matter of fact works just as well when others clam up, become unresponsive, or dismissive. In these cases it's best to use the facts of the situation to draw response out of the person. Start slow and get the person to acknowledge the situation. As they talk more, gradually build on what they're saying to expand the conversation. It's important you make them feel safe and relaxed as you progress the conversation.
Resolve The Matter and Move On
The goal of difficult conversations is resolution of the issue at hand. Most important is that your conversation is productive and ends with mutual agreement for resolution. Know what you'd like to agree to before initiating the conversation and don't lose sight of your target outcome while in the conversation.
Even more important, end the conversation and move on in your thoughts and attention. Stewing on the discussion post conversation breathes new life into the issue. Telling others about your conversation creates risk of gossip and may embarrass the person if shared broadly. Instead of erasing the positive outcome achieved in your discussion, immediately move on and turn your attention to other priorities.
Don't confuse difficult conversations as negativity or mischaracterize them as confrontation. Instead, view them as what's required to create and maintain a workplace that is positive and unified. Don't shy away from initiating them when required and be open and willing to have them when others approach you in kind.
Creating a culture where difficult conversations are appreciated and respected is everyone's responsibility. Lead by example and encourage others to do the same. You'll quickly find that your workplace becomes a positive, better connected environment, underpinned by trust and respect for each other.
Ask These Questions
- Am I tackling difficult conversations head-on?
- Is everyone on my team doing the same?
- Are the conversations I’m having improving situations?
- How can I adjust my behavior to improve the conversation?
- Are the outcomes I request clear and actionable?
About John Fildes
I grow the bottom line by connecting marketing to business strategy. By leveraging powerful positioning, content marketing, and client insights, I help CEOs drive qualitative and quantitative results at scale.
I've built an amazing network of incredibly talented people over the years. What I've appreciated most is those who have invested in me, mentored me, and helped me become the talented professional I am today. I pay it forward by doing the same for other high performing professionals and entrepreneurs.
All views are my own and not those of my current or prior employers.