Turn Challenging Conversations Into Trusting Relationships at Work

by Judith E. Glaser

No one could believe it – Radio Shack let thousands of people go and they did it through email! Most people dislike delivering bad news in person, and will find any way to avoid it.

Making eye contact with another person who you care about, and with whom you need to deliver a difficult message – probably creates disappoint, upset or hurt – and is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. So, rather than confronting these challenges, we often take too many alternatives which at the time seem to be less challenging or hurtful but later turn out to cause more pain.

Discussing/Delivering/Moving Through Bad NewsClouding the Issue

Two years ago I was asked to coach a CEO who was one of 6 reporting to a chairman. The difficult message the chairman wanted to give the leaders was that if she didn’t raise the performance of her team she would be asked to leave. Rather than giving that message, the chairman wrote a 6 page report that provided feedback and 98% was about how good the leader was. Embedded in the document were 2-3 lines, which briefly stated that the chairman expected a higher level of performance from the leader. When I asked the leader what this document communicated to her and what she would do as a result, she said she was doing everything right and therefore was on the right track for her bonus.

Failing to be candid with others is one of the largest reasons why people ultimately leave companies. When we think we are doing the right things, we keep doing them. When key messages are embedded into larger messages, they get lost, are “sandwiched in” which means we can easily discount them or deal with them as less important.

Candor is Golden

People do care about outcomes, but they care more about the processes that produce those outcomes. People want to know where they stand and why. If there is a difficult message they need to hear, employees would prefer to know the truth rather than a watered down or clouded version of it.

Candor supersedes fluff in situations where truth is the medicine needed. Fear of telling a person they have failed, or are about to be fired, or they didn’t make the cut are realities in life. We all know this. Yet we do more harm to an individual by trying to soft pedal our way through a difficult conversation. When people are candid with us – and do it in a caring way – we are open to building trust with them – it’s as simple as that.

Next: How to Communicate about Unmet Expectations

Judith E. Glaser

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best-selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence. Follow her @CreatingWe .

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