A recent article in the Financial Times got me thinking about how difficult a difficult conversation really can be, especially when such a conversation might involve telling people they no longer work for you, or your company.
With a few exceptions, most managers are pretty normal people, and they naturally don’t want to upset people who they’ve worked alongside for a significant period of time; people who are often on friendly terms with them. And so telling someone something bad is put off, often repeatedly. We all do it in our personal lives sometimes, but delaying either the delivery of bad news, or making a decision, is never going to be good in the work place.
For starters, people don’t want to be misinformed, and will, in the long run, be grateful of early warning of their impending outsourcing or horrific pay cut, rather than being told it’s happening in the next five minutes. Passivity here manifests itself as indecisiveness and putting off such decisions and conversations does nothing for trust.
Anxiety over uncomfortable decision making, or a difficult talk, begins to spiral until the dread of facing the problem becomes much more awful than the process of confronting it. As ever, managers need to have guts, but they need to be empathic too. The balance between being an effective manager and listening to people’s needs isn’t always easy to strike up, particularly when big things, like people’s jobs, are at stake. To get over such anxiety and procrastination, the issue needs to be tackled objectively and professionally, and as openly as possible (of course there are sensitive situations where this cannot occur). Tackling issues earlier than one wants to, and could put off, is a sign of a genuine and empathic leader with the ability to make decisions and execute them. And that’s all someone can be in such a situation; sometimes you can’t make it better, but you can do it right.