Handling Difficult Conversations – A Leadership Essential

Handling Difficult Conversations – A Leadership Essential“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Recently I conducted training on Performance Dialogues for the leadership team of a world-renowned pharmaceutical company. As good communication is a critical contributor to performance, one of key areas that we focus on in this leadership training for middle and senior managers is on the skills of Handling Difficult Conversations.

The theme for one of the role-plays was a manager giving feedback to a team member about his ‘not-upto-the-mark’ performance. The team member played the role of a defiant team member. Within minutes they forgot that it was role-play and played out a real life situation. The manager resorted to the style of coercion that he was used to and the team member displayed anger and frustration about not being heard. Resolution did not seem to be option. Hence the role-play was discontinued and feedback was given. Once the participants owned the feedback, they were given the skills that were needed to handle the situation better.

Below is the list of the skills that were focused on:

  • Inquire – ask open-ended questions and be curious to know more about the situation from the other person’s perspective
  • Summarize – listen intently and ensure that you summarize at frequent intervals which helps to clarify the message and allow the other person to know that you are listening
  • Advocate – when voicing your point of view ensure that you do not state it as a definite but rather as a suggestion for which you are getting the other person’s thoughts

The role-play was then rerun. The trainer was actively involved in the role-play to ensure that the three skills of Inquiry, Summarizing and Advocacy were being used effectively. The participants showed dramatic improvement.

Below are the highlights of the comments from the observers and the participants in the role-play:

  • “The manager was genuinely interested in knowing about the details of the from the employee’s perspective.”
  • “When suggestions are offered without the mandate that it has to be followed, it gives the listener the freedom of choosing to use it or discard it. This amplifies the buy-in.”
  • “Recapping the conversation helped to clarify misunderstanding at an early stage which enhanced the efficacy of the message.”
  • The team member, “I felt that my point of view and my well-being was important to my manager. This made me want to contribute more.”

“A beautiful thing happens when we start paying attention to each other. It is by participating more in your relationship that you breathe life into it.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

We, at MMM Training Solutions, conduct training on ‘Handling Difficult Conversations’ which is an integral part of any leadership development program. Please contact us if you would like more details on this program.

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