How to make a Difficult Conversation Easy



Last week I gave a talk on The Case for Heart Centred Leadership and I got stuck right into how it is at the key of so called ‘Difficult Conversations’.

Ouch.  There’s a subject that sounds all soft and fluffy if ever there was one.

In this world of KPIs and targets and PROFIT MARGINS, who on earth wants to admit that they think there’s an argument for tuning into the heart?

Thankfully, there’s a fair bit of evidence out there to support that Heart based behaviours and skills have A LOT to contribute to performance.


Just type ‘Empathy in Business’ into Google and be blown away by what you find.


The results speak for themselves.

On a personal level, EVERYTHING changed in my professional life when I learned to allow my heart to make more decisions.  Life got easier, smoother, more focussed, more creative.  I slept a whole lot better at night.

And for the organisation, well, we moved results up EXPONENTIALLY.  Think double and then some in terms of customer performance.  So I happen to KNOW that it works.

Which leads me to the subject of Difficult Conversations.




Why on earth do we do that?

Especially when we don’t need to.

You see, there’s something else we could teach instead.

It requires a bit of bravery from the very top.

It requires tuning into the heart.

It requires putting our own stuff to one side and showing up for the other person.

It requires caring.

It requires authenticity.

It helps everyone sleep better.  Which has to be a good thing.

And it turns performance and lives around.

Win. Win. Win.


Here at Somebody Inside, we like to call this the art of Ruthless Compassion. 

The practice of saying what needs to be said with the compassion and empathy that make it possible for another to hear it without defensiveness or anger.


Of course, those two words, Ruthless and Compassion, don’t go together at all do they?

When I think Ruthless, Ghengis Khan comes to mind (I’m staying out of current politics for comparison purposes!).

When I think compassion, perhaps I lean to Mother Theresa or other great world philanthropists.

So how would a combination of these two things come together to create magic?


In the world of business and getting things done, leaders who can master the art of Ruthless Compassion have a huge advantage. 

They create people who have clear boundaries, who know what is required of them.  They create loyalty, motivation and engagement and followership.


Ruthlessness is critical in order that you create the capability to say what needs to be said.

Without Compassion – deep care and empathy for the situation of the other, ruthlessness creates all the wrong things.  It creates resentful or hurt submission, or perhaps angry rebellion.

Ever wonder where all those grievances come from in organisations?

Right here. From conversations that HURT so much and are so blunt in their delivery that the receiver is lost for words. Their anger and sense of injustice pours out of them later through a legal process that no leader wants to get tied up in.  Weeks later we’re all still tied in knots.

And of course too much compassion can have awful results too – situations that fester and ultimately lead to loss of jobs when behaviour or performance has reached the point of no return.


We get in trouble when we care WITHOUT the ability to say what needs to be said.


With the perfect balance of Ruthlessness and Compassion, amazing two-way conversations can occur.

Those conversations require trust that process and consistency and ALL THOSE OTHER THINGS WE USE TO HIDE BEHIND when we make decisions are not necessary if we simply say what needs to be said and respond to what is offered back to us.

And like I said, practice.  Lots of practice.

“But this is TOO HARD!  Most leaders can’t do this.  In fact, when I look inside myself, I don’t even know if I can do it…”


I guarantee you DO know someone who can do this.  I’m pretty sure you can reference their brilliant leadership right now.  Maybe you’ve made up that they were just special and that you could never do what they do.

Maybe.  For sure they have spent time cultivating the skill and learning new ways.

And what if it was easier than you think?

What if once you had tried it once, the results and change were so clear to you that you knew this was the way forward.

What if you already had ways to teach this to others at your disposal?

What if all it took was a little curiosity and bravery?

What if friends.  What if.

Want to know more?  Then just click here for the 5 Defining Characteristics of a Conversation with Ruthless Compassion.

We’d love to hear how you get on.

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