I’ve worked with multiple leaders in the last month who each spoke about their reticence to engage in difficult conversations often relating to the behaviour of either a colleague or a direct report. They know they ‘need’ to address the issue and they recognise the impact it’s having on them.

Some of the impacts leaders have shared are that the conflict is making them feel sick (usually at about 3am!), they’re tapping out of meetings and so disengaging with their team. The team culture is being affected by the behaviour of one team member, teams are creating work arounds to avoid a colleague and in one instance means the leader will not achieve their target. And finally, in one business, the leader is, I suspect, looking for another job.

Each one of those impacts represents lost revenue for the business and lost health and wellbeing for the person. These are senior leaders, so what sits behind this avoidance?

Sometimes fear (this hasn’t gone well in the past, it’s risky given the other person’s volatility or their role in the organisation).

For others it’s a pattern of behaving they have adopted since childhood.

Sometimes it’s skill (how do I actually have a conversation like this?).

Clearly some of these take a lot longer to uncover and resolve but others we can work on in one session, following a few simple techniques.

Here are my top tips for stepping out of the avoidance (That my coachees reported actually worked):

  1. Get curious, jump up on ‘the balcony’ and ask yourself ‘what’s actually going on here?’ Is this about me or them? Is it about personality or role clarification for me AND for them?
  2. Step into your courageous authenticity. What would the courageous you do?
  3. Set up a meeting with the person and be clear about your intention. What do you want them to Think + Feel + Do as a result of the meeting?
  4. Ditch the ‘Why’ questions (they just make people feel defensive). Get curious and ask “Help me understand your thinking when you [insert behaviour]” or  “Help me understand what’s happening for you when…” “what’s behind your decision to…”
  5. Be clear about the impact of their behaviour on you, others, the project.
  6. Ask for what you’d like to have happen next.