Mantle Difficult Conversations Blog

27 Jun 2021

Simple steps leaders can take to manage workplace conflict

Difficult conversations are unavoidable in life. At some point in their career, leaders will inevitably have to manage an uncomfortable talk with employees – be it a bad performance review, a delicate personal situation, or unpleasant news from senior management.

Why having difficult conversations is so difficult!

As our earlier blog explains, most of us have a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to the idea of conflict. It’s a term used to describe everything from a minor disagreement (whether in the workplace or at home) through to a full-scale armed war between nations.

Unsurprisingly, this labelling of conflict as something that can seriously impact well-being doesn’t help our anxiety or the ability to manage our emotional state when it comes to conducting difficult conversations.

Research shows that most leaders prefer to avoid difficult conversations

It’s very natural to want to avoid difficult conversations. You might be pleased to know you’re not alone in feeling this way! In fact, an Interact survey of 2,058 managers in the US found that a whopping 69% of these people felt uncomfortable talking to the people they manage.

Why would we expect that to be any different for leaders in New Zealand?

Why it’s important to have difficult conversations in a timely manner

Ponder this:

  • How many poor performers might have been on a different path if a courageous manager had the right conversation with them years earlier?
  • How much time would have been saved if the two leaders of different business units could have resolved their differences?
  • How different might the organisational culture be now if someone had spoken out about bad behaviour earlier?
  • How many talented people may have stayed in the organisation instead of leaving frustrated?

While the task may appear to be unpleasant, delaying the difficult conversation can often escalate the situation even further.

Why you should re-frame your definition of conflict

The secret to having any difficult conversation is learning the skill of untangling your emotions from the subject. Re-frame how you define conflict as occurring between people – and not with the other person.

This opens up the possibility of avoiding labelling or blaming people. Instead, you are investigating what is needed to resolve the issue – and whether this can be met.

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