We love to learn and get inspired by great leaders. We reached out to some of the leaders from our network to hear more about their experience dealing with difficult conversations. They shared with us their tips and tricks on how to deal with difficult conversations.
As CHRO at Beckers Group, Judith has many opportunities to experience difficult conversations. “The last one I had last week. I already knew it would be difficult, so I structured the points that I thought were relevant to mention beforehand, I also tried to think about which atmosphere I want to create (in that case a lighter tone to ease the situation as it was a conflict mediation) and then listen very carefully during the conversation and make sure everyone has room to mention their thoughts.”
For Judith, the key to best dealing with difficult conversations lie within three things:
On the other end, she recommends to avoid:
Unlike most people, Judith seems to actually enjoy and thrive on those difficult conversations. When we ask her, she replied: “I was a bit lucky: early in my career, I decided to like difficult conversations as the chance to learn something is much higher.” She also mentioned that one thing she wishes she knew earlier in her career was learning to speak about her own emotions.
David is Head of Portfolio Growth at Techstars, which makes him a regular point of contact when it comes to queries and issues with different stakeholders such as founders, internal teams, and partners. For him, there are three clear “do’s” when it comes to difficult conversations :
When we asked him about the one thing he would have wanted to know early on in his career when it comes to difficult conversations, he said ”Having difficult conversations is part your job. To the best of your abilities, you have to communicate in a way that the other person accurately receives both your core message and tone.”
We were curious to know whether there was a conversation David wanted to have but was afraid to do so because it might be too difficult. He shared: “I don’t think this feeling every goes away, but with intentional and conscientious practice we can get better at not avoiding conversations, or worse handling them poorly, just because they will be difficult.”
Johann is mentor, coach, and Founder of Systemic Ventures. Through his work, he has the opportunity to meet different founders with different personality types, and he cannot escape some hard conversations. “I tend to have regular difficult conversations, but more importantly to teach founders how to have difficult conversations themselves with their team. If we look at “The 5 Dysfunctions Of a Team”, a seminal book from Patrick Lencioni, “fear of conflict” ranks at the second place on the pyramid of dysfunctions, right after “lack of trust”. Without trust first, it is generally difficult to have difficult conversations.” Johann recommends to first try to build a good foundation based on trust before getting into the most difficult conversations.
For Johann, coaching founders on how to have difficult conversations with their team means:
Johann reminds us that not directly facing a difficult conversation won’t magically make it disappear. “More importantly, delaying a difficult conversation has a tendency to have ripple effects and create toxic environments where fake harmony becomes the norm. I’ve also noticed that the more we delay a difficult conversation, the more mental space it starts to take, and the worse we imagine the outcome to be. Difficult conversations are generally the most transformative. That is also where the true essence of leadership is revealed!”
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photo by Lucie Greiner