4. Difficult conversations

Difficult conversation
How to have a difficult conversation

Let’s talk about difficult conversations and how to have them with a team member. I have recently read Brene Brown’s book Dare to lead which covers brave work, tough conversations and whole hearts. I love Brene Brown’s books because they have so much meaning for me in terms of the conversation sidestepping that happens when there are tricky situations that require brave conversations. I particularly love this quote;

Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviour

Brene Brown

Difficult Conversations

Having a difficult conversation with someone particularly about performance management is something that in my career I have seen sidestepped many times. Sidestepping creates a huge amount of work further down the line when the person involved has to be performance managed and this comes as a shock to them as no-one has ever told them that there was a problem with their performance until you have to. 

Barriers to having a difficult conversation

One of the biggest barriers to having a difficult conversation I have heard quoted is “I don’t have time, it takes too long and I have too much to do”. In the long term not taking the time is going to cost you more time as the problems go unchecked and the person continues with their behaviour and before you know it you have a whole team issue on your hands. It also sends the wrong message as a leader to your team and reinforces bad behaviour rather than raising the bar. Another fear about having a difficult conversation is what if the person complains about you or becomes angry and aggressive when challenged. 

So how as a new leader do you manage all this? You might find when you step into a new managerial role that you have inherited a whole stack of previously unmanaged problems and that feeling of overwhelm in where and how to start creeps in.

Getting curious

Let’s go back to Brene Brown for a minute, what Brene suggests is that we have to find the courage to get curious and surface emotions that people either haven’t been able to express or may not have awareness of.  If as a leader we are seeing patterns in behaviour time and time again we need to get underneath those patterns to try and understand what is driving that behaviour. Brene suggests that when someone starts talking that we stop and actively listen to what the other person is saying. We mustn’t try and formulate the answers whilst they are talking but give the person space.

So how do you start the conversation? 

Firstly you need to make sure that you have all the facts before you arrange a meeting, you need to be well prepared. You need to look back over previous documentation, speak to the staff concerned and make sure that you have the facts and most definitely not hearsay.

Being in the right mindset

You also have to be in the right mindset to have a difficult conversation. You have to be emotionally balanced and calm. It is no good trying to have this kind of conversation when you are tired, stressed or busy, otherwise you will not be able to truly and effectively listen to what the person is saying or to be objective. It is also important to make sure that the meeting is not disturbed. 

No interruptions

Too many difficult discussions are interrupted. It is your role as a leader to make sure that you are not disturbed and that you communicate to all your team that you are not to be disturbed. You will need a “meeting in progress, do not disturb” sign clearly placed on your door and you will need to make sure that your phone is on silent and desk phone diverted so that you can give the person in front of you your undivided attention.

Setting the scene

I always start by asking the person if they know why they are there. I then listen to their response and when they have finished talking I elaborate or correct any misinterpretations on the reason for the meeting. I give clear factual examples of the things that highlight the problem behaviour. Giving examples is really important as it removes the “he said she said” phenomenon.

I like to think that this part of the meeting is where you as the leader are being a detective and trying to find out by asking questions about what is driving the behaviour. There is usually always an underlying reason and your job as a leader is to try and understand.

Case study

I recall a difficult conversation with a nurse who was the only member of her team to not have a portfolio. The rest of the team were beginning to resent the fact that they all had a portfolio but their senior team member didn’t.

This nurse was seen naturally as a good communicator and often helped more junior nurses with their documentation. Her standard of communication was very high and all the team recognised that she would be the best person for the documentation portfolio. Despite all this she flatly refused.

I ask to meet with her to talk through her reluctance. I explained that her team naturally saw her as a leader where nursing documentation was concerned and that I wanted to understand why she didn’t want to accept the portfolio. She became upset and proceeded to tell me that she felt that she shouldn’t be in the team leader position as she didn’t deserve to be there.

We explored together why she felt that way. She proceeded to tell me that her family were very poor and that she had been given a scholarship for her nurse training that led to her becoming a senior staff nurse in the Middle East. She carried guilty feelings that out of all her siblings she was the only one that received a scholarship. 

Inner self talk

It is always worth spending the time to understand your staff no matter how busy you are. As a leader to make time for your staff makes you a better leader and your team will have respect for you in having made the time.

What was holding her back was a limiting belief that she wasn’t good enough to accept the portfolio despite her colleagues clearly identifying her as a leader. Without this opportunity to talk this context would have been lost and the reason for the behaviour misunderstood.

Do you have a limiting self-belief that holds you back? Maybe you think to yourself I can’t do that or I am not good enough or don’t have enough experience? 

I can help you through coaching book a 30-minute discovery call with me today to find out more here

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