Most difficult conversations come down to making or agreeing some form of change. There is a lot written about managing change, and a lot specifically about overcoming the resistance to change that is nearly always encountered. There are steps that can be taken to mitigate and reduce resistance, but what happens when this fails and difficult conversations need to be had?
- Listen, listen, and listen. Reactions to change are personal and unique. One person may take news of a change in their stride, and the next person be completely opposed. Find out why, and it may take some digging. Do not necessarily take their first explanation at face value as there may well be deeply personal issues that they are not sharing. Perhaps they fear for their job, or feel threatened by the change. Perhaps the reason is not related to their job at all – it may be that they are struggling with a personal issue and this professional change is just an added burden to someone already highly stressed.
- Show empathy and give support. If you can understand the reasons for resistance, then demonstrate your understanding and explore ways of helping and supporting. There are nearly always options. This is not a sign of weakness in a leader – it shows compassion and understanding and will be rewarded many times over with respect and loyalty.
- Avoid pulling rank. It may be tempting to simply give orders or instruction, and simply expect others to fall in to line. Do not simply transfer the pressures on you to others. This is naïve and outdated management. It simply will not work and will just bury or defer the issue until it grows bigger.
- Engage the other person in finding a solution and way forward. This may mean breaking down the change in to more acceptable pieces, or finding different ways to implement it. But by engaging the other party in the solution and way forward they will feel a great sense of control and become more comfortable. Combine this with empathy and you start to work together, instead of in contention, to find common ground and make progress.
Emotional intelligence is the single most important factor in leadership success. Use it to lead change.
About the author
Bill Mann is The Keep Calm Guy – Executive coach and mentor helping individuals, teams, and leaders make change with emotional intelligence.