Difficult (But Necessary) Conversations
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of executives at an executive management conference. The subject was leadership skills development and how to improve managerial abilities at all levels of the enterprise.
I made the observation that in all likelihood, many in the room needed to have a conversation with someone and that this has probably been the case for some time. I suggested they get a picture of this person in their mind, noting that it could be someone they work with, a direct report, a peer colleague or even the person to whom they report. Or, it could be someone in their personal life; a neighbor, friend, acquaintance or family member. In any case, there is an open issue which deserves (requires?) a serious and important conversation. They’re planning to have it, but they just haven’t gotten to it yet. Or so it seems.
Difficult, necessary conversations are often put off not because of a false hope that the issue will just magically go away. In most cases, this reluctance stems from the concern which can best summed up by one attendee’s response. “What if I have the conversation and it doesn’t go well?”
Effective interpersonal skills take many forms. The ability to communicate is at the top of the list.
Most of us find it easy, even enjoyable to have a positive conversation in which we express gratitude or compliment the work or behavior of someone else. While even these conversations can be improved to make them more effective, one thing is for sure. They are usually not delayed or “put off until a better time."
Why do we find it so hard to confront difficult issues with others? Despite claims to the contrary (“it’s just not a good time,” “there is a lot going on right now,” “I have it on the agenda for our next scheduled meeting,” and so on) the fact is that we delay this because we feel ill-equipped and unprepared. We don’t want to handle it badly and risk damaging the relationship, maybe beyond repair.
There is a useful, structured, calm, common sense way to approach difficult conversations. This needed skill may be taught, developed and improved upon with careful, deliberate practice. And as with most skills, it begins with training, followed by coaching and application.
I concluded my comments with the following questions: Imagine how much better you will feel and how your relationship(s) would improve if you were confident in your ability to confront issues through effective, non-threating conversations.
For information on how you and members of your team can better develop your interpersonal skills, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.