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Leadership Development Blog


A Conversation Not a Confrontation


Many people don’t like confrontation and as a result, have a tendency to avoid conversations or situations which might contain elements of difficulty.  For those in a leadership position, this can come across as unassertive or even rude if based on appearances alone.

Conversation is a two-way street which means that the topic is open for honest discussion, but confrontation is usually a conversation that has been poorly managed.

There is a certain degree of courage needed when approaching what may be a difficult conversation, not the least of which relates to what you might hear about your own performance!  However, with the right skills and attitude, a difficult conversation does not have to feel confrontational; instead it can provide an opportunity for you to explore and resolve misunderstandings, gain clarity around important issues and set some ground rules in place.

Typically this is the advice leaders are given when they are learning to manage difficult conversations:

- Be realistic.  Identify the gap between what was expected and what was achieved and deal with the facts, not the emotions around them.
- Be specific. When dealing with problems whether it’s behaviour or lack of knowledge, pinpoint the issues and give an example.  Then you know you share a common understanding of the issue.

But there is more to it than that.  These are some of the other conversation skills leaders need to master.

Realise that you don’t know everything.  The conversation is two-way, remember, so you should learn something through the exchange, too.  It might even have an impact on your perception of the event or person you are speaking with.

Say what you need to say.  If have seen an issue, deal with it now instead of leaving it to become a pattern of learned behaviour or to fester into something much worse.  

Share accountability.   Your conversation will lead to some form of change but someone must monitor the results.  Hold yourself and your team member accountable, and act on it.

Courageous conversations can be difficult but leaders have no option but to have them.   This kind of difficult conversation and sharing of opinions can be the beginning of a whole new conversation for the future.  In fact, healthy disagreement is central to progress.

When it is handled well, leaders will find that the problem is resolved without cost to the relationship.  In fact, the honesty and openness often becomes the basis for a new and stronger version or that relationship.

Posted by Ricky Nowak on 15th November, 2013 |
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