Maybe you keep hearing grumblings about how a leader at the company is demoralizing their direct reports. Maybe you keep hearing about a manager who is quick to take credit for team successes—and even quicker to assign blame when things don’t work out well.
Whatever the case, there will be times when you need to deliver bad news to another leader at your organization. When this happens, there are almost no changes in the approach you’d take if you were delivering the same news to a direct report.
Whenever you need to confront someone about a behavior they’re exhibiting, you’re going to be delivering bad news. What makes delivering bad news so difficult for many people is the level of discomfort it generates on the part of the person who’s delivering said news. If you’re not careful, you can generate an adverse response in your counterpart—which can prevent meaningful dialogue from taking place.
In this leadership training installment, we’re going to look at three tips you can use to make sure you’re able to keep these tough conversations on track.
1. Stay Genuinely Curious
Sometimes when we need to deliver bad news to fellow leaders, we begin to wonder why we even bother. The other side is just going to twist our words and make us seem like the bad guy, right?
First things first: Avoid these sentiments by staying genuinely curious throughout the dialogue. Assume you have something to learn. Regardless of how long or well you know the person, there is likely something going with them that you have no clue about. In any tough conversation wherein you are sharing news the other side does not want to hear, you will be attacked. Curiosity will prevent you from being triggered when this occurs.
2. Use an Accusation Audit™
Before getting to the crux of the discussion, i.e., their behavior, defuse the negatives. Demonstrate an understanding of the dynamics that will be in play. When you’re sharing bad news, you’re generating negative emotions in the other side’s head. And negative emotions produce the fight-or-flight response, kicking our amygdala into high alert. When the amygdala is activated, it makes the other person less cognitively nimble. They are in fact dumber in the moment.
By starting the conversation with an Accusation Audit (AATM), you can start to tamp down the activation of the amygdala—getting rid of the negatives as the other side sees them.
For example, you might start your conversation like this: I know you’re probably going to think that I’m meddling in affairs that don’t concern me. You might think I don’t have much respect for you as a leader. Maybe you’re even thinking I am taking a holier-than-thou position. And you’re almost certainly going to think I’m a jerk.
By taking a situationally appropriate guess about the other side’s impressions and assumptions, it’s your first step toward using Tactical Empathy™ to show your fellow leader that you appreciate the lay of the land and are not looking to be an adversary or assign blame.
3. Remember to Eat Your CAVIAAR--
Most of us never rise to the occasion. We fall to our highest level of preparation.
If you want your tough conversation to go well, use the CAVIAAR acronym to guide your preparation and get better outcomes because of it:
- Curiosity — Approach the conversation with curiosity. There is always a motivator behind any statement and any action. Stay curious, and you’ll find it.
- Acceptance — Accept the fact that you’re going to be attacked during the conversation. Anytime you’re sharing bad news or getting someone to change their behavior, you’re going to be pushed back. Stay in the moment and use Labels™ to respond to them: It seems like I just said something specific that offended you. The attack won’t last more than a minute. Using Dynamic Silence™ is an effective response to anger or an attack.
- Venting — When you have lead time before the conversation, find a confidante you can share the story with to get it off your chest. The more you dump your bucket outside of the conversation, the less likely you are to say something regrettable inside of the conversation
- Identifying — Figure out whether your counterpart is an Assertive, an Analyst, or an Accommodator—and figure out which negotiator type you are, too. If you’re speaking with an Assertive, the attack will be swift. If you’re speaking with an Analyst, they’ll think you’re stupid. If you’re speaking with an Accommodator, they will agree with you in the moment, but it will not be authentic. Accusation Audit — Pre-empt the negatives. This is going to sound awful.
- Remember — Your counterpart is not your adversary. The behavior is the problem—not the individual. Your challenge is to turn them into a teammate and get into problem-solving mode together.
Before you open your mouth, remember that the tone and the cadence of your message will have a profound impact on how that message is received.
For the best results, stay in the late-night FM DJ voice and slow your cadence down with an almost exaggerated pronunciation of every word in every sentence.
Following all of these tips should help make your next difficult conversation with another leader that much smoother. For more information on what you can do to become a more effective leader, checkout our free guide: The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide.