Bridge over ocean
1 November 2013 CFA Institute Journal Review

That Difficult Conversation (Digest Summary)

  1. Yaw Mante

Avoiding difficult conversations in the workplace can have negative consequences. The author suggests practical ways for managers and executives to improve their communication in such situations.

What’s Inside?

Managers may avoid having difficult conversations because of a lack of emotional awareness or because of larger organizational and societal factors. The author, a psychotherapist, draws on her clinical experience to suggest strategies to handle difficult situations.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

The author points out that having difficult conversations—for example, giving negative feedback, warning underperforming employees, and letting redundant employees go—can leave managers overwhelmed because of the uncomfortable emotions associated with such conversations. Managers may also doubt that they can cope with the potentially strong emotional reactions of the employees involved.

But when such conversations are not handled well or are avoided, employee and business performance suffer. Managers lose credibility, employees end up with low morale and a low level of trust, and overall team performance declines.

The author suggests acting quickly and firmly. The issue needing to be handled is unlikely to resolve itself. Managers have to avoid imagining worse outcomes than are likely, but they should also not take the issue lightly. They should prepare well for the conversation, consider the possible outcomes, and focus on the goal of the conversation.

Wider organizational changes can sometimes influence the way such conversations are perceived. Managers are encouraged to step back and consider such wider influences.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

The author provides a structured way to think about the natural aversion many individuals have to emotionally stressful conversations in the workplace. She encourages a self-awareness that is useful in managing such situations. She also recommends assertiveness without promoting aggressiveness and provides practical suggestions for managers to use. She makes it clear that difficult workplace conversations can and should be had in a professional and respectful way.

I find it a very useful article for all managers, especially for new leaders who may have limited experience in managing teams.

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