Tough talk

The truth can be unsettling and disturbing.

According to John Spence one of the four biggest leadership challenge executives face is talking about tough issues.

Why don’t leaders talk about tough issues

#1. Procrastination – tough topics have been put off so long they’re nearly impossible to bring it up. It’s like being in a elevator full of silent people.

#2. Underestimation – the tough topic wasn’t always a tough topic. The issue started out small and slowly grew until everyone sees the emperor has no clothes but no one speak.

#3. FalseCompassion – pretending you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

#4. Guilt – when small issues grow into unaddressed large issues leadership is responsible. Bringing up the topic shines a light on long-term inadequacies in leaders.

#5. Self-Protection – you may fear the vulnerability of letting inner feelings out.

Suggestions for having hard conversations

#1. Honesty – First, be honest with yourself.

You know the elephant’s in the room. Take a good long look at him. You’ll be tempted to blame the elephant on others. Thinking about him is really thinking about you.

#2. Exploration – when something doesn’t seem right gently explore it. Don’t wait until insignificant issues escalate. Don’t bury your instincts. You may prefer the advantages of a hands-off approach. Please understand that gentle explorations should never be meddling interrogations or micromanaging. Explorations are expressions of compassion not confrontation.

#3. Question – talk less and listen more.

However, don’t interrogate (#2). Interrogations indicate you’ve waited too long. You’ve let the elephant get too big.

#4. Purpose – keep the big reason for the conversation front and center.

Tough conversations center on values, mission, and vision. Iacocca said it well, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” If you can’t clearly tie your talk to big issues it’s a white elephant.


Why don’t leaders have tough conversations?

What suggestions can you offer those who need to have a tough conversation?