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Having Difficult Conversations as a Leader

15 April 2013 at 10:23 am
Staff Reporter
Our ability as a leader is clearly demonstrated when we face challenges and find a way to create a result that benefits the team and the business. Challenges within your team require even more insight and understanding to solve, writes the Director of AchieveInfluence Martin Longden.

Staff Reporter | 15 April 2013 at 10:23 am


Having Difficult Conversations as a Leader
15 April 2013 at 10:23 am

Our ability as a leader is clearly demonstrated when we face challenges and find a way to create a result that benefits the team and the business. Challenges within your team require even more insight and understanding to solve, writes the Director of AchieveInfluence Martin Longden.

When a difficult situation arises with a team member that requires a difficult conversation, the challenge is to essentially navigate the situation and achieve a suitable outcome that promotes and maintains engagement and commitment from the team member, preserve their willingness to adjust – and add to a recognition of their dignity whilst maintaining respect.

Some of the greatest breakthroughs in team development have occurred when this type of scenario presents itself, and when handled with dignity, respect and skill, have opened up the way for the team member to commit at a new level, and influence the rest of the team to step up as well. Why?

Because ultimately, having a difficult conversation is prefaced by a clear and noticeable conflict of values and expectations the team member has in comparison to what they perceive are the values and expectations of the team and / or the team leader.

The opportunity to build clarity and alignment is distinct in this situation and is never to be considered as a threat. Change happens when new views are formed from a learning approach.

By understanding how values play a major part in resolving conflict can provide a brilliant opportunity to notice which values align to the team, the business and the individual – and which values appear not to. This creates distinctions on where the internal conflict is occurring with the team member, and provides you with an accurate view of the ‘distance’ between the preferred value and the exhibited value of the team member.

Now you can have a real discussion about what is really affecting the team member. This opens up a channel of authenticity, and provided you are willing to respect the team member’s views (as wrong or unresourceful as they might be), whatever the outcome, your professionalism is maintained because the focus has been on the behaviour, not the identity, of the team member.

When you are in a situation that requires a difficult conversation, here is a simple five step strategy to assist both of you gain clarity as to what is important and determine the willingness of the team member to adjust and respond accordingly:

1. Be clear on your outcome you want to achieve before you meet with the team member.

This ensures you know where you are headed in the conversation and the objective you want both of you to reach. Bear in mind this objective is best attained by inviting willingness from the team member to commit to the outcome you seek.

2. Ask yourself what the positive intention of the team member’s behaviour/ attitude could be, before you have the meeting.

Every behaviour has a positive intention, and very often it is to play out a strategy to gain ‘safety’, even if the behaviour may be unresourceful or conflict with the values of the team or company.

3. Prepare for the meeting by checking you have no emotional bias to cloud an objective process.

One of the best ways to do this is to consider this as a learning opportunity that will benefit you both, and how this will also add value to the team, the organisation and your clients. Develop a focus of gratitude for the opportunity to learn and stretch in your leadership capability.

4. Have a structure to your meeting to work from the situation to a resolution.

The strategy I recommend here is
• Overview
• Opportunity
• Oneness
• Options

In overview, you open the meeting by stating its purpose and inviting the team member to share their recollection of the event.

In opportunity, you seek to understand the attitude, the behaviours and the team member’s reasons and justifications for them. What is important here is to notice the ‘cause / effect’ relationship between externalizing blame and responsibility to their actions and responses. This is where your coaching skills will be used to elicit their thinking and their values around the situation.

In Oneness, you seek to lead the team member identify which values their response/behaviour align with the company’s values, and which values need to alter for the team member to contribute an outcome that prevents the same situation from recurring. By providing the opportunity to coach attitudes and perceptions in a way that enables the team member to arrive at a change in their thinking will pave the way for the team member to commit to the change, if there is a willingness present to adjust.

In Options, you invest time to explore additional options to respond to a similar situation if it were to occur next time, so that the team member now feels and perceives an empowerment to respond with autonomy, and also accepts the responsibility to ensure a better outcome next time.

By following this simple strategy, any team leader at any position can effectively manage a difficult conversation that also fosters a willingness to change and adjust so that the end result is an outcome of continuing to build up, rather than limit and restrain.

Martin Longden is the Director of AchieveInfluence. Martin works with leaders to promote team engagement in their communication, coaching and leadership skills.

For further information, you can email him at

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