I avoided tough conversations early in my leadership experience. It’s in my nature to avoid conflict. It’s not because I’m afraid of it. I’m motivated by peace, calm, and fairness.
When tough situations came up, I knew I was supposed to address them, but I didn’t want to upset the relationship. With experience, I came to realize that I was doing more damage by not having the conversation.
Usually, the situations were about performance or intradepartmental conflict. I’d notice things and say to myself that they would eventually change on their own. Maybe if I just led by example then everything would work itself out.
The damage I was creating by avoiding the conversation was removing the opportunity for the individual, and myself, to get better. Furthermore, as the rest of the team picked up on the behaviors then resentment started to fester. The team’s trust in my leadership was rightfully questioned as it continued.
I’ve noticed that while there are painful points in the tough conversation, it’s usually better than the pain caused if you avoid it altogether.
The reality is that you can’t avoid conflict. Healthy conflict is a sign of growth and innovation. It’s a chance for you and your team to get better.
Some leaders have no problem with this. Whenever a tough conversation was needed, my mentor got right to it. What I learned most from this was that she always did it in a way that was true to herself. She stayed calm and presented the challenge based on facts so that I never felt attacked. After stating the facts, she would ask for my thoughts on what I’d heard. Finally, we’d work together to find a solution.
I don’t avoid tough conversations anymore. I still don’t necessarily like them, but I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to get better by having them. So now like my mentor, I get right to it.