Difficult Conversations

Tuesday, May 17 2022

By Wayne Vanwyck – One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is to fire a family member. That was a difficult conversation! As business owners, we are responsible for making decisions in the best interests of the company, even if they are difficult. Developing goals and strategies for your business may lead to difficult conversations:

  • A long-time employee and friend is not productive, but still collects a pay cheque.
  • An analysis reveals that you have unprofitable products that you need to stop selling and servicing. Some of your salespeople and suppliers will suffer.
  • You’ve chosen to change direction and there are too many people in one department. Some must be laid off.
  • Your top salesperson has become entitled and arrogant. They are toxic and have refused to change. You must fire them.

Nobody said that owning a business was all fun and games. Despite the benefits, you are often in a position in which you must make tough, unpleasant and even traumatic decisions. Those who avoid conflict or are afraid to deal with difficult issues will often make choices that unfairly benefit one person at the expense of another – maybe even themselves. Avoidance is not a successful strategy. Nor is being unprepared.

When the Stakes are High

In their book Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high, the authors make the point that when it comes to a crucial conversation, we have three options. We can:

  1. Avoid them.
  2. Face them and handle them poorly.
  3. Face them and handle them well.

“Walk away from the crucial conversation and suffer the consequences. Handle them poorly and suffer the consequences. Or handle them well.”[1] The choice is obvious, but it doesn’t make it easy. In fact, in the past 40 years of business, I’ve done all three!

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Avoidance doesn’t work. It’s just kicking the can down the road, hoping it will go away. It rarely does and the longer you leave it, the harder it gets.
  • Deal with small issues before they become big.
  • If it’s a performance issue, the other person probably knows it’s coming.
  • If someone understands the issue but chooses not to correct it, that’s their choice. The next move is up to you. Handle it well. What’s the “right” thing to do?
  • There are better and worse ways to deal with issues, but they are too important to leave to chance.

[1] Crucial Conversations, Paterson, Kerry et al. McGraw Hill, 2002. P. 3

Results-Centred Leadership is a program that includes modules on improving communications and dealing with issues. Click here to learn more.

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