If there is one thing that many people dread more than anything in life it is the prospect having a “difficult conversation” with someone else. It is all too easy to put it off.
But there are always consequences to this. Firstly, the problems generally don’t go away, but get worse. Secondly, the other person’s behaviour won’t change and thirdly, we may feel bad within ourselves for not facing up to the situation and trying to deal with it.
Learning how to navigate a difficult conversation is a key managerial skill. Handled well and the end result is not only likely to be a better relationship with the person in question but also a pathway to working through difficult issues together.
This is even more essential in family-owned companies where there are blood ties on top of ones as co-workers. My family and I have, therefore, spent many years creating frameworks, which enable us to have these kinds of “difficult” conversations in proactive ways.
They help us to manage THP more effectively and maintain our close inter-familial relations. Such frameworks form a key part of our training programs throughout the company and are the bedrock of our seven core values.
I believe they are what give THP its competitive advantage. So what have we learned?
Well at the heart of a difficult conversation is the need to take responsibility.
Such conversations generally arise because something bad has happened and we want to examine why. In such a scenario, most people’s instinctive reaction is to try and shift the blame onto someone else, rather than understand how we might have contributed to it.
But as I always say, how can someone manage others if they cannot manage themselves? True leadership is not about taking control of a situation and dominating others so that it makes us feel good about ourselves.
It is about moving from blame towards understanding. This works because the person on the “receiving” end of the conversation will be instinctively hoping to shift the blame too.
Blame incites fear and closure. Conversely, once someone realizes that they are not going to get blamed they relax and become more willing and open to making changes.
I think it is also important to acknowledge a second human tendency, accuser bias. When approaching a difficult conversation, many of us assume that our intentions are good while the other person’s are bad.
Yet they are just as likely to be thinking the same thing about us. It is, therefore, important to mentally detach impact and intention. Just because a difficult situation has arisen it doesn’t mean that it was anyone’s intention.
Once again, this comes down to removing blame from the equation. At THP we view failure and difficulties as part of a learning process.
Turn a negative into a positive. Learn from success and failure. Understand others so that we can understand ourselves. All these attributes mean that a difficult conversation does not become something to run away from but to embrace.