Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Speaking Up for Leaders: How to Have Difficult Conversations

Layoffs. They were calling people up to HR – one-by-one to lay them off.

We gathered around our phones just waiting for the call that we lost our jobs.
Hands were shaking. Tears were flowing. We didn’t know who was getting the call to the executioners office next.
Finally, a VP came down stairs and announced that the rest of us were “safe” and that we should go to main conference room.
The CEO was waiting for us. She looked visibly shaken like she was having the worst day of her life (weren’t we all).
How a leader communicates at a time like this one can make or break the morale of a company for years to come.
This CEO told us that it had been a hard day (no kidding) and that we should all take the rest of the day off, and return tomorrow when business will resume as normal.
Normal? She was kidding right? Everyone of the “survivors” was shell-shocked and didn’t know what was happening.
There was no “normal” to go back to.
Leadership means having a difficult conversations especially when a business is fighting for survival.
As a leader, how can you navigate the murky waters of delivering bad news?
The job of a leader is to create a positive experience, so how can you turn it around?

1. Create a culture of communication

After surviving a layoff, people want one thing to be heard. They want to be able to ask questions and to make sense of what happened.
As the leader, your job is to provide that forum for communication to happen. A safe place to ask questions whether that’s in a company wide meeting or during a one-on-one.
Open communication is essential part of recovering successfully after a difficult experience in an organization.

2. Listen – really listen

People want to been seen and heard. As a leader, there comes a time when you have toclose your mouth and open your ears.
Be present. Focus on what is being said. If your mind begins to wander, re-focus on what the other person is saying. If you’re thinking about how to respond to what’s being said, you’re not listening.
In difficult conversation, it’s almost impossible not to lose focus and plan what you’re going to say in response.
It’s pertinent to stay present. Paraphrase back what you heard to make sure you understood what was said and then respond.

3. Develop deep empathy

Imagine what it would be like for your people to hear the message you’re giving.
If you were among them in the conference room instead of doing the speaking, how would you feel about what’s being said.
Would it be reassuring? Does your message make you feel safe, secure, or hopeful?
Think strategically about how the message is going to received by those you lead and the tweak the message accordingly.

4. Paint a vision for the future

After a layoff, the loss of a big client or any other challenge for a business, there needs to be a vision for the future.

It doesn’t have to be sunshine, unicorns, and sparkles, it can be a vision of hard work, creativity, and ingenuity.
But those you lead need to feel that you’ve got it covered. You know what should happen next and if you don’t know personally you’ve got a team who can help you figure it out.
Create a vision of the future that people want to help you create.
I’ll never forget the day that the layoffs happened. It changed the company I worked for forever.
As a leader the way you communicate in challenging times dictates whether your organization thrives or barely survives.
How you communicate with those you lead can give them hope for a brighter future.

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