Having Tough Conversations

We typically use this space to discuss organizational design. In light of current events, we’ve decided this isn’t appropriate today.

Instead, we’d like to talk about tough conversations. When we encounter them when working with clients, we sometimes refer to them as “third rails” because they’re often highly charged, sensitive issues that organization members may seek to elaborate around. Understandably, avoiding conflict and bypassing these tough issues makes sense.  When a tough issue can’t be avoided, leaders make decisions behind closed doors, accept compromises that only circumvent the issue, or delegate upward for guidance from above.  Unfortunately, when the tough issues aren’t tackled head on, organizations find that they lack the support to truly implement meaningful change. It’s only when people set aside their own fears, self-interests, and biases to create the conditions for open discussion and debate that true progress can be made.

We’ve been shaken by the violence and intolerance that’s dominated the news in recent weeks, and we don’t pretend to have answers. But we do believe in the importance of addressing the “third rails” in our own lives that are preventing us from moving toward a place of greater understanding. We’ve seen the power of communication when organizations need to make radical changes. Teams who truly listen to one another, who acknowledge pain points and who work creatively and collaboratively to address difficult topics, are the ones who succeed.

We encourage us all to step up and have the tough conversations that are needed – in our work as we strive for better cultures and outcomes – and in our personal lives, as we work to recognize biases, acknowledge privilege and support those who need our help.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”