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HR Seminar London: Women in Leadership, Critical Conversations

On the 13th of February our London office held the first ‘Women in Leadership’ seminar of their 2019 series in partnership with Arcadia Consulting. In these seminars we are continuing to address the issues and challenges faced by women in leadership.         


This session was facilitated by Julia Denvir who, following 11 years as a leader at Goldman Sachs in London and Hong Kong, has a wealth of experience in the leadership of multi-regional and global teams as well as the management of complex processes and client relationships. Her principle area of focus is executive communication and personal effectiveness.


Based on our previous sessions feedback, in which participants shared their interest in learning about managing upwards, Julia delivered an engaging workshop on ‘Critical Conversations’ to our roundtable of senior HR leaders. 


We all have difficult conversations that need to be had up and down the management line or in our personal lives. A conversation becomes critical when these three elements are present: 

  • Differing opinions 
  • Emotions 
  • The stakes are high, something matters to us 


These are discussions that could make a big impact on our careers or personal lives and, as these conversations are important to us, we are more likely to avoid them or walk away feeling disappointed.


As these conversations are not easy to have, consider the personal cost and consequences of not having this important discussion and keeping your feelings inside, not knowing how they will eventually manifest. If you are not openly discussing an area of concern then you might find yourself subconsciously acting them out. 


Critical conversations usually catch us unaware, our bodies begin to release adrenaline which switches off some thought processes and we go into fight or flight mode. This usually displays itself as silence or violence where you become argumentative and not constructive in your messages. 


When a conversation catches you unaware the only thing you have control over is your reaction. In order to achieve your desired outcome you should stop and think about how you want this dialogue to go. You then base your reaction to the conversation on your desired outcome. 


Julia then shared with us some key points to consider when having critical conversations:​

  • Lead with the truth: Be clear and focused on the main issue. It is always easier to be empathetic and genuine when you speak plainly and truthfully. 
  • Be courageous: Use persuasive not abrasive language.
  • Be authentic: Speak from the heart, in your own words and in your own way, demonstrating both courage and sincerity.
  • Be prepared – know your objective: Reflect upon what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it.
  • Adopt a mindset of inquiry: Listen. Be open to hear what the other person has to say. Reflect upon your attitude towards a situation/person. Beware of preconceptions! 
  • Manage yourself: If emotions are running high, take a deep breath and slow down. Never lose control, remember to think of your desired outcome.
  • Get perspective: Try to look at the situation from the other person’s viewpoint; seek to understand their emotional state. Show empathy.


If you need to deliver bad news then follow these best practice steps derived from the SPIKES Protocol: Setting, Perception, Invitation, Knowledge, Emotion/Empathy, Strategy: ​

  • Chose the right setting: Privacy / no distractions etc. Consider what the recipient deserves. One-to-one versus group communication. Be deliberate about this. 
  • Begin by listening: None of this is pleasant – our instinct is to get it over with as fast as possible! Show that you care. Seek to diffuse tension. 
  • Ask about perceptions: You can then flex your delivery style according to the size of the gap between the reality of the situation and the recipient’s expectations. 
  • Forewarn the bad news: Give someone a few moments to prepare. This enables the recipient to physically and emotionally brace themselves. Be honest.
  • Communicate in small chunks: Bad news creates a state of high emotional arousal. This invokes fight or flight response which inhibits the ability to take in/process information. 
  • Use empathic responses: You don’t have to be an emotional wall. While you can’t change the news, you can show empathy. 
  • Summarise the bad news: Ensure comprehension in a way that is not harmful. Recap. 


When dealing with employees, you should be checking in with them regularly and they should be aware of their performance so that at their annual review there are no surprises. 


We then moved into a group discussion in which the participants shared their experiences and stories surrounding critical conversations. 


The evening closed with further networking over drinks and canapés where the guests mingled with the Arcadia and Elliott Scott HR teams. 


Our next HR seminar in London will be in June. If you would be interested in taking part in the next session please reach out to Kirstin Hunt at kh@elliottscotthr.com. For any of our other future events, follow us on LinkedIn and keep an eye on our events page.​

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