4 Temptations Nice People Face in Difficult Conversations

Can nice people lead effectively through conflict?

That is one of the key leadership questions that hound nice people everywhere. Leading effectively through conflict is an essential leadership skill. Leaders must be able to engage in difficult conversations, hold people accountable for results and confront violation of values. But, can a nice person handle the rigors of such conflict?

The answer is, “Yes.” But this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

In my younger days as a leader, I found myself leading a team of about 35 staff. During one particular season, several members of my staff were under-performing against their expectations. It fell upon me to hold the difficult conversations required to get them back on track.

After several of these discussions, the senior leader to whom I reported asked me how these conversations were going. “Oh, great!” I enthusiastically responded. “I am pretty sure they are getting the message.”

“Well then,” my boss patiently responded, “Why did several of them just tell me that you had congratulated them on their sterling performance?”

I hung my head in embarrassment. I knew the “nice guy” in me had not succeeded in these difficult conversations.

My boss then switched into coaching mode. “Look Scott,” he began, “You are a nice person. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a virtue I wish more people had. As a nice person, you may think you can’t bring the clarity required into a conflict situation. That is simply not true.”

Then he said the words that have shifted my thinking ever since.

“Scott, you can be clear and also be kind.”
Ever since that moment, I have applied this principle whenever I find myself approaching a difficult conversation.

There are four specific temptations nice leaders must avoid if they want to successfully lead through conflict.

1. The temptation simply to avoid difficult conversations

As nice leaders, we need to recognize our aversion to these conversations and compensate by being disciplined and focused.

2. The temptation to avoid clarity

Nice leaders can be so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings that they shroud their comments in vague euphemisms. Every time you walk away from a conversation, ask yourself, “Did I get my message across with crystal clarity?”

3. The temptation to seek approval over respect

In order for nice people to be as effective as possible in their leadership, they must resist the temptation to please everybody.

4. The temptation to expect too little from people

Nice leaders will sometimes lower the bar so low for their people that the organization flounders in a sea of mediocrity. People will accomplish more if leaders set the bar high and show them how to get there.

Avoiding these temptations does not mean you must become someone you’re not. Don’t fake it.

If you’re a fellow nice person and a leader, begin with an awareness of the temptations that exist.

Just remember, when it comes to leading through conflict, you can be clear and also be kind.


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