Emotional Intelligence: Relationship Management & Tough Conversations (Part I)Posted on July 9, 2017

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this? Growing and sustaining positive relationships, in all aspects of our lives, is really tough.  Unfortunately, until recently, management training pigeon-holed this leadership competency as “soft skills” and not as important to focus on as budgets, productivity, and ROI.   Some leaders shy away from the “icky” people stuff because it is gray, unpredictable and just plain hard, and therefore they don’t have the relationship capital or the skills to have effective accountability conversations when necessary. What is the case for doing it anyway? The real bottom line is that people, interfacing with other people (customers, co-workers, supervisors, vendors/suppliers, etc.) are who actually produce the results in organizations (unless fully automated).  In my opinion, the more effective the relationships are between these groups of people, the higher the chance an organization has at producing better sustained results.  One of the most important relationship management skills to deliver great results is to have tough conversations when needed – productivity is falling, conflict is interfering with co-worker relationships, not meeting expectations, etc.  When leaders fail to have tough conversations, in the right way, they are allowing a work environment to continue that is counterproductive to producing the best results. How can you do it? 
  1. Start by establishing common ground.  Start your discussion with common ground.  Make sure that you explain the reason for your conversation and why you are speaking with them now.  Sometimes leaders avoid tough conversations because of the guilt they feel for not having talked with the person sooner.  It’s never too late.  But certainly, you should own that to the other person by leading with an apology for not speaking with them sooner (if that is the case).
  2. Understand the other person’s perspective.  A relationship is two-sided.  People want to be heard so make sure to manage your own feelings and start by taking the sting out of the other person’s defensiveness.  Genuinely share that it is important to you to understand the other’s perspective and that you would like to hear their point of view.  Remember your goal should be to strengthen the relationship with this conversation, not weaken it, if you ultimately want to produce better results.  You also can’t make a good decision if you do not have all of the facts.
  3. Resist the urge for a “dig”.  The person may say things that are false.  They may exaggerate the facts.  But in the middle of this tough leadership conversation is not the time for you to lash out with a come-back or a rebuttal.  Take the heat.  Know that the other’s digs are coming from their defensiveness or hurt feelings and put it in perspective.  You can always come back to this person and talk through the comments, but now’s not the time.  You also can’t possibly be actively listening if you are trying to come up with a come-back.
How have you “set the stage” for a tough conversation that was successful?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.
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