Most people don’t like  disagreements and conflict. They hate to be the bearer of bad news, and no one wants to tell someone that yes, that dress does make you look fat. But that fear of rocking the boat and having difficult conversations can hold you back.

Twenty years ago as a product manager, I was in the uncomfortable position of telling the president of the Armstrong Furnace Company that his oil furnace did not meet our quality and performance  standards. The room was quiet as I explained I wasn’t going to offer his product to my customers. This was particularly uncomfortable since the president of Armstrong was also my boss.

The company I worked for at the time, Lennox Industries, had just purchased Armstrong. Our executive team expected we would enjoy some synergy and economies of scale as we combined product lines, reducing our overall operating cost. My refusal to sell the product clearly threw a wrench in their plans. I wasn’t too popular in the executive suite for a few weeks, but once the dust cleared we started to have very productive conversations about what needed to be done to improve the product so we could sell it through our channel.

We maintained our market share and launched a new product line significantly faster then we would have if I had just accepted the status quo.

I learned some important lessons that day which are equally valuable  today when talking with clients, employees, friends, my children or even my husband

  • Nothing changes if you don’t speak up. Don’t wait for someone else to speak up;  most of the time they are waiting for you.
  • If you know it is going to be an uncomfortable conversation, plan ahead. Anticipate the objections and think about the points you want to make.
  • Come to the table with a plan. Don’t just say this isn’t working. Bring suggestions on what needs to be done to improve or change the situation.

The conversations are never easy, but the results are usually worth the effort. Whether it’s telling an employee they aren’t performing at a level you expect or telling a customer you can’t do what they want, it is always better to have the difficult conversation.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc