topSkip to main content

NEW Leadership Academy takes on tough talks

NEW members from Frito-Lay participate in the NEW Leadership Academy webinar.

“The first difficult conversation you need to have is with yourself, the same way you would with your team,” Stacie Behler, group vice president of public affairs and communication, Meijer Inc., told participants during “Dealing with Difficult Conversations,” the year’s second NEW Leadership Academy webinar, March 30.

Behler joined Tom Baldwin, managing director of sales at Mars Petcare U.S., to share advice for handling difficult situations with peers, subordinates and managers gracefully and effectively. Program facilitator Jo Miller of Women’s Leadership Coaching moderated the discussion.

“Influence comes from credibility,” Baldwin said, “and credibility is built on relationships, strength and experience.”

Behler agreed, urging leaders to be mindful of others — including what they celebrate and face in their normal lives. “In a solid relationship, you put effort in every day — a key to success lies in foundation work, long before the difficult conversation.”

“There are no shortcuts — invest the time,” Baldwin said.

Key takeaways for navigating tough conversations:

Strip away the drama. “Bring facts and keep it unemotional,” Behler said.

Rehearse. Baldwin recommends experimenting with role play to anticipate responses and outcomes.

Be mindful of situational leadership. "Understand how the other participant learns, hears and understands,” Behler advises.

Stay teachable. “Even with what I’ve discussed today I am still working to get better and constantly seeking feedback,” Baldwin said.

Involve and engage. “People don’t want to be told what to do,” Behler noted. “They want to feel like they’re part of a team working toward an outcome.”

Solid relationships can outlive — and even be strengthened by — difficult conversations, Behler and Baldwin agreed. “The process begins with one-on-ones with every member of my team,” Baldwin said.

 “A difficult conversation has a lifecycle. Follow up, and circle back to hoped-for outcomes,” Behler said.

NEW learning webinars are free to NEW members. Register for the next NEW Leadership Academy webinar, “Driving Financial Results: Finance for Non-Financial Managers,” June 8 at 1 p.m. ET. Not a member? Join NEW.