The Art of Difficult Conversations

If you lead a team long enough, eventually there are going to be some difficult conversations that are going to happen. No one wants to have difficult conversations, there’s nothing fun about them. But if you care about the team and if you care about your teammates then eventually someone is going to need to be confronted. It could be poor work ethic, breaking organizational values, underperformance, misrepresenting the organization, or it could even be a moral or ethical problem just to name a few. But who is the right person to have that difficult conversation when it needs to happen?

1. Who has built the most Trust?

Whoever has the most trust with the individual being confronted needs to lead out in the conversation. If there is any shot at the team member hearing what is being said and responding well to the challenging conversation there must be a foundation of trust. They must know that you care for them, that you believe in them, and that your intentions are pure (otherwise you wouldn’t be having the conversation). Trust gives you the latitude to have a difficult conversation and expect a great response.

2. Who are they going to hear from?

If you care about keeping the team member think about who is going to be the most clear with them in the conversation. I’ve seen countless times when a supervisor confronts or coaches a team member and the two walk away with very different versions of the situation due to the inability of, or discomfort that the supervisor had with clearly delivering challenging news. Clarity is king in confrontation. Make sure whoever is going to say it, says it clearly.

3. Who are they going to respond to?

The goal of confronting a team member is not to have them leave the team. That’s not confrontation or coaching, that’s called firing someone. The goal of confronting a team member is to have them respond in a positive manner to a negative behavior or situation. The goal is behavioral change right? So whom are they going to respond the best to? Let that person have the difficult conversation.

Last Thought: While ideally the team member’s supervisor would be the person who fits these three criteria, that’s not always the case (for a myriad of reasons). So sometimes having someone else in the room leading much of the conversation other than the supervisor isn’t such a bad idea.

Photo Credit: jetheriot via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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