How to Deliver Difficult Messages Constructively as a Leader

Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Kavitha Chahel (UK).

Effective communication is a critical skill that great business leaders use when there is a difficult message that needs delivering. Often when one has a difficult message to deliver the associated feelings are usually of anger, frustration or exasperation, “let me just get this over and done with”.

The issues are often thrown at the other person involved so that it becomes entirely their own problem that needs solving. The best way to deliver a difficult message or discuss an issue is for the issue to be disassociated from the individual in order to collectively find a suitable solution. This helps avoid dehumanising or isolating the person receiving the message.

Being a business leader is a fairly thankless role; if things go wrong you are responsible and if things go right you feel guilty for taking the credit for someone else’s hard work. Taking on this role can often feel like walking around with a bullseye stuck to your back, which can manifest into feelings of isolation and loneliness, and so therein begins the development of unhealthy and unhelpful behaviour patterns to deal with the demands of the role. When you feel isolated the last thing you instinctively want to do is show any weakness. In the act of being strong, you end up coming across as being cold and detached, to try to hide any weakness. Learning to become comfortable with vulnerability takes time.

The way that business leaders deliver a message and what they say can make or break their business. The way in which we communicate with one another in the work environment can have a significant impact on the outcome of a situation. On one hand, if proper care and consideration are not taken, the way in which we communicate can add significant stress. On the other hand, when honest, empathetic, well-informed communication is achieved, that interaction can be generative and create something new out of a difficult situation. In doing so more options and possibilities become available than one previously thought possible.

Developing this critical skill is possible by incorporating some new daily habits into one’s life:

  1. Managing stress:

When you are able to manage your internal chatter and stress levels it allows you the space for clarity and to step away from your habitual responses and feelings.  Meditation begins in the brain and can induce a trance-like state. When in a state of meditation our parasympathetic nervous system ‘turns-off’ the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the actions of walking, talking and feeling stress. This allows for a deep state of rest and relaxation. Our nervous system controls our entire body and the emotions produced by our brains. Our physical bodies are one of the most fascinating and complex machines. When we suffer from stress, the body responds. The response is often tension in the muscles, increased heart rate, shallow and fast breathing and we increase the production of cortisol in our bodies which can have long-term health implications.

When we can master the control of our thoughts and emotions, we can step away from our habitual responses and communicate at a level of empathy and with a problem-solving mindset.

  1. Stepping into someone else’s shoes:

An easy exercise to try in order to be able to step into someone else’s shoes is perceptual positioning. It allows us to become the observer of our own reactions and changes that happen in our own body as we speak to this person (for example does your breathing change when you speak to them? Does your posture change when you interact with this person you dislike, as opposed to someone you like?). It allows us to also metaphorically step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what it is like for them to receive the message we deliver. Giving you the space to assess exactly what you can do to ease the tension next time you interact with this person.

You will be surprised how just by altering your tone or posture and relaxing into yourself when delivering a difficult message or discussing an issue, can lead to a far less stressful outcome for all involved, producing a constructive, generative outcome.

  1. Really listen:

Learning to listen is also part of effective message delivery and can help you deal with the issue in a non-judgemental manner. Free your hearing space to listen instead of queuing up another question or comment before the other person has finished talking. It is a skill we can all do with in order to really hear what people are saying. Once you have mastered this skill you will be able to uncover so much valuable information.

If you give all the information you are being presented with time to settle you are able to develop a broader understanding of the situation. Once you have heard different perspectives, it gives you the opportunity to explore new options, to help yourselves and the other person become unstuck from the habitual narrative.

Many MD’s and CEO’s I speak with believing their organisation is inclusive and everyone is part of ‘one big happy family’, yet the majority of their staff do not feel this way. Families by their very nature are dysfunctional and communicating without authenticity and connection can lead to unhappiness. There are families who function better in their dysfunction than others, not because they are the perfect family but because they have learned how to communicate with one another in a more authentic and caring manner. Their interactions keep in mind the greater good of the collective and less so purely in benefit of the self, and there is a greater sense of happiness. Learning to deliver difficult messages constructively is a big part of creating a well-functioning, dysfunctional work ‘family’ that are engaged, motivated and productive.

About Kavitha Chahel

Kavitha Chahel is the founder and MD of Compassionism Ltd, a leadership coaching and training company focusing on helping business leaders create profitable businesses through highly engaged teams and by getting comfortable with their fear and vulnerability to connect with their compassion.

She is an experienced business coach and company director. For nearly 20 years she has worked in business development, marketing, business leadership and strategy across the corporate, public and charitable sectors. She is also a non-executive director of Asha Projects, a charity that provides safe housing to women and children fleeing domestic violence. She has worked with clients across EMEA, the Americas, and APAC. Recently Kavitha published her new book ‘Compassionism’


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