If you’re a typical leader, hard conversations come with the territory. When human beings with their unique personalities and perspectives work side-by-side – sparks can fly. Let’s unpack the dynamics and look for ways to keep conversations productive, not explosive.
Hard conversations usually follow disagreements, which often stem from different viewpoints. Let’s use the tale of the blind men and the elephant as an example. Let’s say there were just two of them, one at the elephant’s trunk and one at a leg.
“Hey Bud, looks like we’ve stumbled upon a gigantic hose.”
“What are you talking about, Harry? It’s a big fat tree trunk near as I can tell.”
“Wrong again, Bud! This thing’s moving around like a fire hose. I can’t even keep my hands on it!”
“For crying out loud, Harry! I’m kicking it and it’s not budging. It’s got rough bark on it. It’s a tree trunk, I’m telling you!”
And on and on it goes. Two blind men experiencing an elephant from different perspectives. Hmmm… two coworkers blind to each other’s perspectives.
A key to resolving a disagreement is to seek to understand the other person’s point of view.
1. To understand is to “stand under” the perspective, viewpoint, or stance of another. It’s making a concerted effort to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to see the situation from their vantage point.
2. Drilling deeper, to understand is to choose to mentally or emotionally place yourself in a position where you’ll be able to see it as the other person does. (In our example, Harry would’ve needed to walk to where Bud was standing in order to feel the “tree trunk” with his own hands.)
3. To understand is to honor the other person by acknowledging and validating that they are seeing the situation in a certain way, even though your own perspective is different.
4. To understand is to humbly acknowledge the reality that the other person’s perspective has value, as does your own.
1. Have them. This doesn’t go without saying. We’ve all felt the temptation to shrink back from a much-needed conversation, wanting to avoid the difficulty or not believing it will help. But good leaders face problems head on, led by the Spirit and in a posture of humility.
2. Seek understanding. Apply the above principles as you engage in dialogue. Ask the other person to share their viewpoint. Listen hard. Reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say. Invite them to do the same as you share. Truly factor in both perspectives as you work together toward a shared understanding.
3. Check back. Talk with the person soon afterwards, the next day or week. See if any nuances have surfaced in their mind. Talk them through. Or reiterate the new path you’ve agreed upon together.
4. Stay current. Keep an open line of communication with the individual – connecting personally and professionally. Regularly invite feedback and input. Work toward dealing with conflicts in the moment when possible and appropriate.
Just like with the blind men and the elephant, most situations are multi-faceted. Several different perspectives may each correctly portray a portion of the whole reality. Hard conversations require courage, humility, and a joint effort to seek understanding. When we’re willing to understand – to “stand under” – another’s perspective, God can forge a shared understanding toward a new path.
“When we’re willing to understand – to ‘stand under’ – another’s perspective, God can forge a shared understanding toward a new path.”-Lisa Hosler
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
How do you handle hard conversations? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment Section below.
*Principles gleaned from Keith Yoder, Teaching the Word Ministries, www.ChristCenteredLeaders.org.