As a mentor to many entrepreneurs and business owners, I find that many of you have a real fear of uncomfortable interaction situations with individuals on your team, and often delay these discussions endlessly until a crisis occurs. I am often asked for ways to reduce the stress of these impending confrontations, and build up your courage in tackling the inevitable negative conversations.
I’m sure that many of you have some good thoughts on how to deal with difficult situations, but I was very impressed with the summary of recommendations provided in the new book, “Compassionate Leadership,” by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter. Both of these authors come from leadership backgrounds, with much experience in management training and consulting.
Thus, I would like to offer the essence of their recommendations here, with my own perspective interjected. I find the key is learning how to manage your own fears first, and then building your courage while committing to stay positive and compassionate in your approach:
Tackle at least one courageous situation per day. Don’t try to group your tough discussions all in one day. Make a habit of doing a bit every day, even if it’s no more than giving a kind piece of feedback to someone you don’t enjoy. This allows you to build your courage gradually, rather than all at once. Soon your fear will fade into the background.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, you have to accept the fact that facing tough decisions, and uncomfortable discussions, comes with the territory. You must develop the courage to face them every day, whether they be personnel issues or business issues.
Actively follow up on uncomfortable discussions. Make a note to come back an hour or a day or a week later, to ask how the other felt about your conversation You will see that most people are appreciating, or at least learning from, your courage and candor. If you listen carefully, you will also learn from them, diffusing your fear of confrontations.
Experience has shown me that follow-up is required to make any discussions effective, whether it be coaching or networking. Don’t expect any discussion or relationship to be finalized by the initial interaction. Real results only come from cumulative interactions.
Act on a timely basis – never delay a confrontation. Don’t leave people, or yourself, in suspense. Others know something is not right, even if it hasn’t been discussed. Nothing is as toxic as unacknowledged difficulties. So take the lead and move forward. The fear and the stress on both sides only gets worse over time, and trust and productivity suffer.
In the same context, you should never delay positive recognition or feedback. In fact, you should always seek to offer positive feedback or encouragement before criticism. This will help strengthen your courage, and soften the impact and reaction to your total message.
Trust your intuition when you feel discussion is needed. Push beyond the fearful part of yourself that says everything will be okay, if you just pretend that no problem exists. If you feel that something must be done, then you are probably right, and you need to act. At the same time, always base your feedback on facts rather than emotion.
Share with a peer to find new and helpful ideas. Be honest about the fact that you find the situation or the person difficult, and ask for help in developing an approach. The fear that often holds you back increases when you keep it all inside. Sharing with others and getting their input will help you broaden your perspective and make you more effective.
Handle tough situations like business change issues. Both may be often outside your comfort zone, and both require courage, but as a business leader, they are key parts of your role, so learn to take them in stride. It is normal that being courageous requires stamina and patience, so don’t get frustrated if you make some mistakes along the way.
In my view, you must always think beyond yourself to create a team culture of courage and positive communication in your business. If everyone in the company embraces this purpose, with a common set of values, then it creates the cultural pressure to have the level of engagement needed to do things in line with the best interests of the business. That’s a win-win for everyone.