18 Sep 2019

Difficult Conversations : What Makes them Difficult?

Our personal as well as professional lives are full of conversations. Rather, conversations that we have play a crucial role in shaping our lives; at personal as well as professional level. A simple activity like conversing with someone can serve multiple purposes; from arriving at new ideas to peacefully forgetting the paths which hit a roadblock. It won’t be slightest of an exaggeration if we say that the kind of conversations we have, define the kind of person we are. 

Though we all believe that conversations play an important role  in our lives, not all conversations are what we would look forward to. In course of the work, individuals, especially managers, have to initiate and steer through a large number of conversations which are not ‘pleasant’. Because of a number of reasons, these conversations put the initiator as well as the receptor out of their comfort zones and hence, perceived as something to be avoided.

Difficult conversations are equally important, or rather slightly more important in the growth story of an organisation. Unfortunately, due to this sense of ‘difficulty’, the difficult conversations are often postponed or avoided. Many times, they are rushed through hurriedly without giving them due importance, time and attention. Not equipping managers to have difficult conversations can significantly impact the course of a company. 

In this article, we have put together a list of conversations which are often labelled as ‘Difficult Conversations’ and a few reasons because of which they are perceived as ‘difficult’.

1. Discipline related communication with high performers: 

High performers are difficult to find and once they are on-board, managers try their best to retain them.  Most of the times, high performers are also aware of the fact that they deliver more than what is expected out of them. It becomes a complex issue when you have a high performer in the team who takes liberty to break some of the rules or work related disciplines which apply equally to all the employees. In such situations, managers hesitate to bring up these issues with the high performers fearing that they might leave the organisation. Such unexpected exits can sabotage ongoing important projects. If handled properly, such conversations can lead to better understanding between high performers and their managers. 

2. Giving performance related feedback to seniors: 

A large number of professional conversations revolve around feedback to colleagues. Due to evolving nature of work and responsibilities, the feedback has become bi-directional. For instance, consider a family owned company run by the old founder having a large team of next-gen managers. For the smooth functioning of the company, the managers will be required to share their feedback, which could also include critical feedback to the founder. Such conversations are perceived to be difficult mostly on account of inability to gauge how the feedback will be received and what will be the implications if it is not received in the good spirit. Properly conveying such feedback can bring out transformational results. 

3. Asking basic questions about products: 

Imagine, you have spent twenty years of your career in selling speciality chemicals. On account of your sales skills, you land up at a new job which requires you to sell a different set of products, say adhesives. In such a situation, being at a senior position, it might be awkward for you to ask questions about the products which are very elementary and basic in nature. We tend to avoid such dialogues due to the feeling of awkwardness associated with them. 

4. Appreciation: 

Appreciation, in reality, is a harmless act of praising a team member for outstanding performance.  In spite of that, managers might find it difficult to appreciate a team mate anticipating that it would trigger promotion or increment related aspirations. A large number of managers find it very difficult to appreciate their team members, especially when appraisals are lined up. 

5. Cross functional dialogues: 

Companies having complex products or solutions often need cross-functional efforts to successfully ideate, build and sell new products, that too in a stipulated timeline. Cross functional meetings serve as the meeting point for all the teams working on different aspects of same product or solution. Such meetings are often the breeding grounds for difficult conversations. Such meetings are most likely to turn into battlegrounds where each team keeps blaming the others. During such meetings, each team will try to portray that it is not the weakest link of the chain because of which the work has broken down. If steered properly, these meetings can turn into an excellent avenue for cross-functional learning and development. 

6. Exit interviews: 

When an employee decides to leave the organisation, whose fault is it? The manager? Or the employee? Or the company policies are to be blamed for? Because of all these negative notions associated with them, exit interviews are among the toughest dialogues managers and HR team members have to initiate. If conducted properly, exit interviews can generate a wealth of information about employee experience and how to enhance that further.  

In this article, we have tried putting together different conversations which are often perceived to be difficult.  In the next article in this series, we take a closer look at how can we separate the aspect of ‘awkwardness’ and ‘difficulty’ from these conversations. 

Rahul Chaudhari

About Rahul Chaudhari

Rahul is the co-founder at Element78 and he focuses on bringing in sustained and tangible transformation to client’s talent and hence its business performance. Rahul has played a pivotal role in customizing and delivering solutions for large and mid-sized clients based on their development needs. He has handled several strategic client initiatives and helped them manage sales and business growth. Rahul has serviced several key clients, across manufacturing and services sectors, in the areas of leadership excellence, trainer development and sales effectiveness. Prior to co-founding Element78, Rahul has had over 20 years of experience in management consulting, industrial sales and learning & development verticals, working with several leading firms such as Dale Carnegie Training, Tata Economic Consultancy Services, A. F. Ferguson & Co. and KSA-Technopak.  Rahul is trained and certified for his professional abilities at IIMB (Management Consulting), Kathalaya (story-telling), and ISABS (Organizational Development). Rahul can be reached at rahul@element78.in
Rahul Chaudhari

rahulelement78-in

Rahul is the co-founder at Element78 and he focuses on bringing in sustained and tangible transformation to client’s talent and hence its business performance. Rahul has played a pivotal role in customizing and delivering solutions for large and mid-sized clients based on their development needs. He has handled several strategic client initiatives and helped them manage sales and business growth. Rahul has serviced several key clients, across manufacturing and services sectors, in the areas of leadership excellence, trainer development and sales effectiveness. Prior to co-founding Element78, Rahul has had over 20 years of experience in management consulting, industrial sales and learning & development verticals, working with several leading firms such as Dale Carnegie Training, Tata Economic Consultancy Services, A. F. Ferguson & Co. and KSA-Technopak.  Rahul is trained and certified for his professional abilities at IIMB (Management Consulting), Kathalaya (story-telling), and ISABS (Organizational Development). Rahul can be reached at rahul@element78.in

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