The Results Are In: “Difficult Conversations” Most Stress-Inducing Part of Leadership

In August, we asked our readers what they believe is the most stress-inducing part of being a leader, and with 27% of the votes, “Having difficult conversations (i.e. poor performance, employee termination, etc.)” was the top choice. “Holding employees accountable” and “Managing conflict” round out the top three with 19% and 17%, respectively.

The rest of the results were as follows:

  • Meeting company goals/expectations – 11%
  • Planning, budgeting, and strategy development – 7%
  • Meeting employee expectations – 5%
  • Delegation of work/responsibilities – 4%
  • Self-confidence/decision making – 3%

Nearly 8% of respondents selected the “Other” option and submitted their own thoughts on the topic, including:

  • Working with other company leaders
  • Increased work load
  • Being the public face of the organization
  • Dealing with attitudes
  • Knowing that the decisions you make can affect the lives of many people
  • All of the above!

Difficult conversations are part of the job
In an ideal scenario, the workplace is always a harmonious hub of engaged employees working together toward achieving a common goal. Everyone is on the same page and on board with overall strategies and tactics. And although that may be true for some companies, the reality is that few work environments are immune to the occasional conflict.

Conflict resolution is a major topic in business leadership and management, so naturally, there are a wide variety of ideas on how to address it. One tool on conflict management includes the Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), which was developed by researchers and professors Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann. The TKI identifies five different styles of conflict and can be used to measure how a person may respond in a conflict situation. In a nutshell, the five styles and characteristics of each include:

  • Accommodating: Overly cooperative, even if it works against you.
  • Avoiding: Ignoring the issue, hope it resolves itself.
  • Collaborating: Seeking a win-win solution for all parties involved.
  • Competing: This is a win-lose scenario with little or no cooperation from the “winning” party.
  • Compromising: A situation where neither party involved gets an outright “win.”

One of the main ideas behind the TKI is that understanding the five styles can not only help identify where each party in a conflict is coming from but also how to address the situation to hopefully come to a resolution. You can find more information about the TKI at

What are your favorite strategies for addressing conflict in your workplace? Let us know in the comments section below!

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3 Responses to The Results Are In: “Difficult Conversations” Most Stress-Inducing Part of Leadership

  1. Trish September 19, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve been managing for many years now. The difficult conversations are ok with me. I’ve found that simply asking people questions (“here’s what I see and how this is looking, what’s it look like from your side?”)
    People figure it out for you.
    If I get personally or emotionally attached to a particular outcome then it becomes difficult.
    As long as I’m willing to be open (they might get mad, they might cry, they might disagree) by being okay with whatever reaction the have them it’s not so hard.
    Also more listening and less talking has worked like a charm for me.

  2. Martin Hale October 3, 2017 at 11:27 pm #

    I have been supervising and managing employees for over thirty years , and I have discovered that leading by example gives the most powerful results.

    When initiating difficult conversations always have an example of why you are needing to have the conversation in the first place.

    Always allow the employee to give feedback. Mostly the employee will try to justify their actions , however it is rarely about them , but always about the companies goals.


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