My client mentioned she is good at having difficult conversations, and that this is something that makes her a good leader. A lot of people I work with say this.
It’s not so hard to be part of a difficult conversation if you’re the person in power – the boss, the landlord, the parent. You just start talking and it happens. What’s hard is coming at these things as an equal, what’s hard is putting aside your title and status to purposefully stand on common ground, ground that’s shaking and about to give way. What’s hard is coming out the other side better than you were before.
If someone is doing a bad job (again), or if payment is past due (again), or if rules are ignored (again), or if they put their foot in their mouth (again), a difficult conversation is indeed necessary. Here, you’re always at a crossroads.
You can drop the hammer and lay down the law; in other words, drive steadily toward the end-result you desire: the absence of that person.
Or, you can do the hard thing and tell that person what everyone else knows but what no one will say, with the lightness, respect, and reticence as if you were talking to your own supervisor. You can amplify the whispers for a moment. Underline the refrain. Offer up the code.
Few people try to fuck up in life, so chances are if the person is failing, it’s a theme in their life (or it’s about to be) – trying too hard, taking on more than they can handle, neglecting relationships, forgetting important dates…
That theme can be underscored or it can be interrupted. It will be underscored if you keep your hat on, wear your stripes, and wag your finger. It can be interrupted if you take a deep breath and leave yourself out of it.
It’s certainly not your job to fix people, particularly people who are messing up your own situation, costing you money, pissing you off, etc.
But how do you want to walk away from this? Like you just ran over a squirrel? – Not your fault! Why did it run out in the road like that!
Or, as if you came upon a hummingbird landing and taking off from a branch?
The most respected leaders seize the opportunity to lead in all situations, even the difficult ones, careful to leave everyone better off than they were before they came. They lead up until the very last moment, and they lead selflessly, so they can celebrate in good conscience when all that’s left is the branch, waving ever so slightly.