Leaders are expected to not only have hard conversations, but also do them well. And this is the expectation in the private and public sectors. The New South Wales Government, for example, has developed a set of capabilities – the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework – used to help develop their leaders. Many of the capabilities in this framework allude to the ability to have hard conversations, including the following:
- Display resilience and courage: Be open and honest, prepared to express your views, and willing to accept and commit to change.
- Communicate effectively: Communicate clearly, actively listen to others, and respond with understanding and respect.
- Work collaboratively: Collaborate with others and value their contribution.
- Influence and negotiate: Gain consensus and commitment from others, and resolve issues and conflicts.
- Manage and develop people: Engage and motivate staff, and develop capability and potential in others.
- Optimise business outcomes: Manage people and resources effectively to achieve public value.
- Manage reform and change: Support, promote and champion change, and assist others to engage with change.
All these capabilities require leaders to be skilled in having hard conversations. Similar frameworks exist for other government departments and corporate businesses.
When an issue that needs to be discussed isn’t addressed, the problem rarely goes away. Often, things fester and get worse. This can have a terrible impact on your organisation and its people.
During the past 10 years, our Director Mark Rosenberg has mediated numerous workplace disputes between individuals. The scenarios have included:
- CEOs having problems with members of their executive teams
- partners being unable to work together at various professional service firms
- individuals having difficulty working together in the same team
- managers in conflict with members of their team
- people from separate teams who are clashing.
Almost all these situations could have been resolved without the need for mediation if the individuals had talked through the issues when they first arose. By avoiding the conversation, things got worse. Small misunderstandings became major disputes. This affected not only the individuals at the heart of the dispute, but also people around them. Tension in the workplace made life unpleasant for anyone in the vicinity. Sometimes people who were affected left the organisation or moved to other divisions. Workplace productivity always suffered. When people choose silence, rather than expressing their issues, organisations lose.
Read more about creating psychologically safe workplaces in Mastering Hard Conversations: Turning Conflict into Collaboration by Mark Rosenberg. It’s available from all good bookshops and online.