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CEO Insider

How great leaders value important conversations

Shane Michael Hatton

Important conversations come with the territory of being a leader. But have you ever felt like an important conversation you needed to have with your leader wasn’t valued by them? How did it make you feel? If the answer was ‘not great’, that’s motivation to think more about this. You can make sure the person on the receiving end of a confronting conversation feels valued by you. 

You can assign high ‘value’ to important conversations through simple actions. Leaders that do not only strengthen the trust of their employees but build a culture in which their team is fully empowered to speak up when there’s something going on. 

Here are five simple ways that great leaders place high value on important conversations.

They are punctual

This says, ‘Your time is important to me.’ 

As simple as it may sound, arriving on time to a meeting places value on both the person and the conversation. This means that when a meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., you are seated, prepared and ready to go by 10:30 a.m., not just walking through the door or wrapping up your last meeting. 

Avoid the temptation to fill your day with back-to-back meetings. Plan for the unexpected by putting time margins around your appointments. Assume that someone will try and ‘catch you for five minutes’ while you are on your way somewhere. We can be certain that our day will have interruptions, but when we have allowed margins, these interruptions won’t throw us off course. 

They leave time 

This says, ‘This meeting is important to me.’ 

Allow more time than you think you need. This will stop you from ‘clock watching’ or needing to ‘cut this short’, which only makes a person feel like you have somewhere more important to be. You should always allow more time than you think you’ll need for a difficult conversation. Create space at the end of the meeting to agree on action steps and the plan forward. Invite the team member to ask questions and seek clarity on anything that was discussed. Don’t just allow time for what you want to say – make time for everything that needs to be said. 

They think location 

This says, ‘Your privacy is important to me.’ 

Where you meet can make or break an important conversation. If an employee is experiencing some type of conflict among their fellow team members, it goes without saying that taking them aside in an open-plan office to discuss the conflict will impact on their ability to be open and transparent. 

Create opportunity for people to be transparent. This might mean booking a private room in another building or meeting off-site to discuss confidential matters. Thinking this through before you arrive extends the invitation for the person to share freely and openly. 

They stay focused

This says, ‘Your content is important to me.’ 

Be careful not to hijack an important conversation with your own agenda. Topics raised in the meeting may trigger other concerns and tasks that need to be addressed or accomplished. Be sure to stay on point with the purpose of the conversation. Take time to ask more questions and avoid jumping in with quick-fix solutions. 

They eliminate distractions

This says, ‘You are important to me.’ 

Distraction is simply divided attention. To place value on a person and an important conversation, give that person your undivided attention. Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’, because otherwise we all know the buzzing in your pocket will get the better of you. Manage expectations and create boundaries for those who need to reach you. Let them know you will be uncontactable for an hour and will return their call. Place a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door so people don’t interrupt. 

It’s the simple actions that show our teams we care. It’s the small courtesies that place value on a person and a conversation.

For some people I talk to, delivering a hard truth to a team member can feel like strapping on a set of boxing gloves. It doesn’t have to be that way. Most of the leaders I know care deeply about helping their teams become better; I assume that you do, too. These conversations are about building people up, not beating people up. I’ve learned that if your goal is to prove you’re right, you’ll almost always go wrong, but if your goal is to make things right then you’ll almost never go wrong.

Here are a few quick tips to wrap this up: 

  1. Be proactive: address things quickly. 
  2. Be specific: give practical examples of your observations. 
  3. Be clear: make the link between the behaviour and the culture. 
  4. Be humble: ask for their input and recognise you could be wrong. 
  5. Be ready: know what you want to look different moving forward and take ownership for your part. 

And most importantly, when it comes to hard conversations, just be kind.

Written by Shane Michael Hatton.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - How great leaders value important conversations
Shane Michael Hatton
Shane Michel Hatton, author of Let's Talk Culture – The conversations you need to create the team you want (Major Street Publishing $32.99), is an expert in leader communication, blending his experience in business and psychology to help leaders communicate, connect and collaborate more effectively in order to bring out the best in those they lead.

Shane Michel Hatton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.