Tom, who is the leader of a large technology solutions company, recently attended a 1-day leadership training workshop to learn more about how to effectively manage and coach teams. One of the aspects he learned was that engaging in difficult conversations is a critical part of a leader’s role. A key takeaway was that you cannot withdraw to get away from the possible conflict and then later re-appear to hold a team member accountable in a domineering way. With this leadership insight, Tom realized that learning to manage difficult conversations is critical to the preservation of relationships. Failing to understand the impact of communication on another person can lead to a relationship breakdown that undermines confidence, discourages employees and potentially destabilizes the business.
By nature, Tom is driven to reach goals, very competitive, confident and, in exercising initiative, makes things happen. Tom is currently under pressure as the delivery of a complicated and high-earning technology solution for a bank is running behind schedule. Tom naturally communicates very directly. He gets to the bottom line and is not interested in lengthy explanations or stories.
Josh heads up the project. He is analytical, very specific in his approach to business, won’t be rushed, and reacts when insufficient time is allocated to complete work. He recognizes that the timeline for the project is slipping but believes checking and re-checking ensure the outcome is successful and there will be little need to rework the technical solution for the client. Josh communicates using detail, examples and specifics to support a conversation.
Tom opens the conversation with “can you tell me why is the project slipping?” To which Josh responds, “we need more time, I want to be sure before sign off.” Josh continued outlining every aspect he was checking at which point Tom issued a directive: “sign the project off by close of business today.”
Under pressure, Tom failed to listen to the detail Josh was providing. Josh failed to see that Tom was under pressure and needed headlines, bullet points, and a range of sign-off options Tom could take to the client. The meeting ended acrimoniously.
Had Tom, as the leader, given Josh his time and attention to listen to the detail of where the project sat, he would have been able to provide Josh with suggestions on issues or priorities to help him effectively achieve a plan for a sign-off. Instead, Josh felt overwhelmed and rather than moving the project forward continued to focus on reviewing each issue/step of the project under the original brief believing that Tom was criticising his work.
The reality of the situation is that both Tom and Josh were operating from their natural behavior and they did not have the awareness to adapt. Then Tom remembered during the recent leadership training he had completed the Communication DNA Discovery Process which identified his direct goal-setting, communication style. He realized that if before the conversation, or even at the start of the project, that Josh had also completed his Communication DNA then the result of the difficult conversation could have been different. He would have seen the benefits of giving Josh space to present his position whilst steering him to the bottom line and thereby a solution. He could have demonstrated to Josh that any risk to the project was minimized and offered Josh assurances that he trusted him. Tom would have uncovered Josh’s natural ability to absorb and analyse information ‘on the run’ and offer strategies to move the project to closure.