January 3, 2024 – Difficult conversations are never easy but they are necessary. It's important to approach discussions with empathy and be mindful of how your employees and the collective organization feels.
We sat down with DeVry University's vice president of human resources Beth Hanson to give leaders tips to discover why these tough conversations are so important.
Learning to give feedback can be really beneficial to leaders and employees. But those conversations can be difficult. Where does a leaders start?
Starting a difficult conversation begins with preparation. Paint a clear picture of what you want to talk about and approach these by first considering the individuals whole self – the relationship you have with them and the emotional landscape. This same foundation is integrated in our leaders at DeVry University. We have to first understand where the individual may be coming from, with the ultimate goal of getting on the same page. Acknowledge that feedback can be difficult but that you are there to support them along the way.
What benefit can these conversations have for both leaders and their employees?
Feedback is a gift. People grow the most when they are challenged and put into uncomfortable situations.
In fact, I believe acknowledging and sitting with emotion creates space for a better dialogue. At DeVry, we have worked extremely hard to cultivate a Culture of CARE so that it’s embodied at every level of the organization. Our Culture of CARE includes Care for self, Care for colleagues, our students and the communities we serve.
You mentioned connecting to your culture. What value does that have when having these tough conversations?
It’s important that leaders think of their culture, that colleagues feel heard and valued by their leaders. Connecting to your values and expressing what you need during difficult conversations can help exponentially. Something we embrace at DeVry, especially around difficult conversations, are the TEACH values:
Teamwork: We put team first, appreciate diverse points of view, assume positive intent, collaborate, and communicate openly.
Energy: We move quickly and learn from our mistakes. We build a positive spirit and always look for a better way.
Accountability: We take ownership and initiative. We demonstrate courage as we speak and act with integrity in all that we do.
Community: We operate with a shared sense of responsibility and purpose. We enrich colleagues, students and the broader community we serve.
Heart: We serve students and each other with passion, respect, and care
What final piece of advice would you give leaders who know that they need to have these conversations but are hesitant?
It’s vital for leaders to be present and listen while coming from a place of positive intention. Some leaders have a hard time giving difficult feedback, or what they perceive to be difficult feedback. Many times, that’s because they feel uncomfortable sitting with someone to help them process their emotions. We cannot control how someone reacts to our feedback but what we can do is sit alongside someone to help them process through the emotion and feel supported along the way.
Finally, recognize you might not get it right on your first attempt. Failure is also a part of growing. How you handle those failures is what sets you apart as a leader.