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Graci Leadership Solutions Blog

  • Writer's pictureGraci Leadership

Managing Critical Conversations




I am a huge fan of the TV series Yellowstone. If you ever noticed, they prod cattle quite often during an episode. They have people prodding cattle from behind and on the sides of the herd. But more importantly, they have prodders out front setting the pace. Why? You don't lead a herd of cattle from behind. You can only go as fast as the slowest cattle. The definition of a leader in a race is the one who gets to the finish line first—not last!


I often work with leaders who tend to lead from behind. In other words, they are reluctant to confront others to avoid being seen as aggressive. They plan to hope the problem behavior of a team member magically goes away. Hope is not a plan. Hoping a behavior goes away is like leading from behind. Often, the leader's reluctance to get involved in conflict results in a deterioration of relationships.


I also work with leaders who tend to come across as aggressive. They treat others like they never would want a son/daughter/niece or nephew to be treated. 


Imagine, for a moment, a waiter asking a customer how they want their steak cooked. A customer says, "Well done." The steak is delivered rare. A passive person will say, "It's okay," as juice runs down their chin. They don't want to offend anybody.


An aggressive person will call the waiter and angrily shout, "I would not feed this to my dog. You call yourself a waiter. How long have you worked here? You won't be getting a tip from me!" Everyone would hear the customer's dissatisfaction and how they treated the waiter without respect or decency. 


An assertive customer who believes in treating others with dignity and respect would focus on the situation and clarify boundaries. They would ask the waiter to summarize their order. Then, they would point to the steak and ask, "What can we do regarding this rare steak?" 


A wise person once said, "To be successful, it's not what you are willing to do; it's what you are willing to give up." What sacrifices is a leader willing to make to become better at their position? Is a leader willing to commit the time and effort to be effective in their position? If not, it doesn't make them a bad person, but it makes me question whether they have what it takes to be successful. 


Tactfully confronting a problem team member and having a critical conversation takes skills. Taking a conflict resolution class, learning from your mistakes, and not beating yourself up when you make a mistake is the sacrifice. 


My most popular keynote and/or training class is easily Managing Critical Conversations. Often, leaders know what needs to be done when resolving conflict, but they lack the "how" to do it. 


We cover over 25 situations that cause leaders and team members the greatest amount of stress in the workplace. How should leaders work with team members displaying all types of problem behaviors? When should a leader intervene between two employees, and when should they allow the two employees to work it out? How should leaders tactfully approach others who are not doing what you want them to do? 


Team members rely on a leader to resolve conflict effectively. A leader who worries about offending others or is aggressive will likely impact employee engagement and productivity. 


Leaders Are MADE, Not Born. 

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