One of the biggest challenges for everyone, especially leaders, is having powerful conversations. A powerful conversation can be:
- A difficult conversation
- A conversation about something significant
- A conversation that might be considered a weighty one
The common denominator with all of these types of powerful conversations is that they each have high emotion attached to them. When emotions are high the conversations are more difficult. So how do you as a leader handle these types of conversations with grace and have the outcome you want?
When conversations are emotionally charged it becomes more requiring for you to be thoughtful about the content of the message, and the delivery of the message. This is the time to think before you speak, and practice what you want to say to ensure you will be able to keep your emotions in check. A couple of examples for your to consider.
- The staff needs to be told about a merger/acquisition. You know they will be full of questions and concerns and find yourself unsettled because you may not know the answer to their questions, or you are uncomfortable with their emotions. What do you do? Many leaders I work with will blurt out the information during an all-hands meeting, with some hope that participants won’t ask too many questions in the large group forum. They close the meeting saying, “come talk to me or other leaders in the company if you have questions’ and scurry off to their office hoping no one will knock on their door.
- Senior leadership changes are happening. Even when these are positive for the company and the leaders involved it creates uncertainty for people. Who will be their new manager? What if they don’t get along with this person? What does this do to their own promotional opportunities? The list goes on. Remember, while the news may be good for you personally, it may not be seen as positive for the team.
- Sharing a significant change such as downsizing, reorganization, or elimination of resources. Like any change that occurs within an organization, how you share the message is critical. The facts are the facts and it’s important that you take everyone’s feelings into account. Your own emotions can interfere with effective delivery of the message. If you are anxious or upset those around you will feel this and respond to your emotions more than the words you are saying.
There are many situations where you have to share unpleasant news, have a difficult conversation, or prepare an individual or a team for changes that will occur. No one likes to have these conversations and what we typically do is wait until the last minute and rush through or handle poorly because we are unprepared. The inevitable outcome is others will feel fear, uncertainty, frustration, maybe even anger. The result is rumors and gossip will become the norm. There is no way to guarantee those emotions won’t happen as we’re all human. Some people will have those reactions irrespective of how well you handle the conversation. However, if you handle the communication well, perhaps even those naysayers will be less negative and others will not get sucked into the stories being shared.
Preparing well starts with considering the content of the message, and how much background you want to share. For example, if the message is about a change in leadership, whether adding a new leader or someone moving to another role, what do you want to share as to why this is happening? Once you determine how much background to share, think about your own reactions/feelings about the situation. And then consider how others will react/feel.
Leading powerful conversations means you have to think in advance about what you are going to say (the message); what background information you want to share (the why); your own emotions about the situation (personal reactions); and what reactions others might have to the news (their emotions). If you don’t stop and think about all this in advance, and plan for the interaction, it likely won’t turn out to be positive, even if you are sharing positive news. Emotionally charged conversations are difficult under the best of conditions. When you ignore how to handle them well, you should expect whatever happens.
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