Several times in recent workshops I have been asked about how to deliver a difficult message. As a leader, you probably have difficult conversations from time to time. They could be with an individual or an entire team. The actual delivery style of your message and the location can have a significant impact on how the message is received.
Face to Face
If possible, most difficult conversations are better off done in person, face to face. At times, logistics and the urgency of a message make it impossible for the message to be delivered in person. In this case, live video would be the next best way. As I wrote in the post 3 Keys to Effectively Receiving Feedback, being able to see the body language of a person you are speaking with greatly adds to how your information is received.
Electronic communication (email, text, instant message social media) should be the last avenue to have a difficult conversation. Sure, this can be the easiest and quickest way to communicate today but it is also the most impersonal. Difficult conversations usually affect at least one, if not both, parities personally and e-communication it the most impersonal way to communicate. With the lack of body language and tone of voice, it is easy for e-communication to be misinterpreted, especially when different cultures are involved.
Where to Talk?
When it is necessary to have a difficult conversation, such as related to discipline, demotions or even firing an employee, it is best to meet them in a private area, either their office or a neutral area, such as a meeting room. Using your office for the conversation could have several detrimental affects.
On your turf shifts power balance too much to your side. Besides, if the conversation does not end well, you can’t leave as you are in your office. It is always nice to have a way out. Don’t rule out a coffee shop if you feel you can have a semi-private conversation there. The ambient noise and movement can help calm the tension.
Delivering difficult news to a large team is also better off done in person, be it in a boardroom, from an auditorium stage, or if necessary, via live video. Having the courage and condor to deliver the message face to face will increase the acceptance of the message and if delivered sincerely, the respect level for the leader.
When the leader of your country has a difficult message to deliver, he doesn’t just send out a memo for the newspapers to print. He will usually share his message to a live televised audience or hold a press conference where questions can be asked. When delivering a difficult message in person, it is imperative that you offer the opportunity for questions from your team.
There are dozens of good books written on this crucial topic, such as Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most and Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High. Pick up two or three copies for your corporate library and encourage leaders in your organization to develop this important skill.
Where do you like to have difficulty conversations at work? Leave a comment below and let me know.