What are hard conversations and why should you have them?

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.

As a leader – whether that be as CEO or part of senior management, or a leader within your team or thought leader within your organisation – being skilled in dealing with conflict and having uncomfortable conversations has enormous benefits.

Hard conversations are the conversations that you find uncomfortable, awkward, or difficult. They’re the conversations that you put off or avoid.  You can think about hard conversations as being on a  continuum, ranging from scenarios that are mildly uncomfortable, such as having to tell someone their zipper is undone, to situations that are just brutally tough, such as having to tell someone they are being made redundant.

Over ten years ago we started the Hard Conversations program for our clients. The program met an important need and more than 2000 people from numerous organisations have participated in the program. Most of the attendees choose to come to the program (as opposed to being told to come) and it is interesting to understand what drives them to attend. We start the program with ‘Let’s try to clarify what we mean when we talk about hard conversations. What scenarios are you experiencing that have drawn you to this program? What hard conversations have you had in the past or are you currently experiencing?’

Some examples are:

  • Managing an internal customer who has a lot of power
  • Telling management news they didn’t want to hear
  • Admitting a mistake
  • Calling peers out for poor behaviour or poor performance
  • Talking to a colleague who keeps interrupting and talking over me
  • Dealing with a direct report who is undermining the team

Hard conversations in the workplace cover the spectrum of positional power. They can be when managing up (with the chair, the CEO, the partner, the direct manager, the Minister), across (with peers and other colleagues at similar levels) and down (direct reports and others who are lower in the organisational hierarchy). Hard conversations can also involve external players such as customers, consultants, and business partners. The conversation can occur in a one-on-one  situation or in a group meeting.

The best organisations encourage their people to have the tough conversations and help them develop their skills to do so. Organisations that don’t do this suffer – they don’t perform as well because they’re not having the robust discussions that contribute to creative ideas and good decisions.

Balanced Curve can help by offering the right programs for your organisation. Clients tell us that by improving their skills they have increased their credibility and improved both team and organisational performance. We provide them with a proven, practical, structured approach to help them become a better leader by improving their communication and conflict management skills.

The book Mastering Hard Conversations: Turning Conflict into Collaboration by Director Mark Rosenberg is also a helpful guide for managers and leaders. We encourage you to get a copy for you and your leadership team to help navigate hard conversations better to help improve teamwork, productivity, communication, and organisational performance.

Contact us for more information.

A woman is standing in front of several colleagues in a meeting room. She is wearing a white shirt, has long curly hair and smiling with her arms crossed. The cover image of Mastering Hard Conversations is on the left.

Mark Rosenberg