Magazine article Public Finance

How to Tackle That Difficult Conversation

Magazine article Public Finance

How to Tackle That Difficult Conversation

Article excerpt

The prospect of having that difficult conversation can be traumatic. And in the public finance arena, the issues can be complex. Not only are there personnel or interpersonal problems that need to be addressed, but also potentially difficult conversations with other parties that can impact finance teams.

These include the stakeholders, such as senior management, politicians and taxpayers, and then there is the need to referee the crossfire between other departments over finance issues.

If all this wasn't challenging enough, there are also the staff concerns, such as giving someone negative feedback, warning a staff member who is not pulling their weight or having to make an employee redundant.

All of these highly emotional circumstances can leave managers feeling overwhelmed. It can cause much soul-searching and stress, worrying about how to conduct the conversation and what to say.

In the recent climate of uncertainty and fear for job security, those conducting difficult conversations must appreciate all the personal and wider factors that play themselves out during such encounters. It can make them feel more dangerous than they really are.

Difficult conversations facing finance teams could also be over the disciplines of some departments or between others over budget issues. They could be about persuading another department to share in the costs of an initiative, when each party doesn't value it equally.

There may be the need to convince a stakeholder to generate a proportion of its funding instead of relying on centrally controlled public funds. This might involve calling for a more entrepreneurial approach from managers who have previously worked in a totally funded environment.

Another situation could require a finance professional to justify the decision to allocate scarce funds to one project rather than to another, using criteria that are not part of the accountant's traditional skill set.

Getting through the difficult conversations is often what moves an organisation forward. If it is delayed, it can cause an issue to fester. The consequences of not holding a hardto-have conversation could be far worse for the individuals concerned, as well as for the department.

Avoiding the issue could lead to a malaise that drags down individual job performance and overall efficiency. Or it could be that the conversation is needed to clear the air of current barriers.

The outcome can have a trigger reaction on the whole way the individual, department or team operates. What other chains of events could follow? So many uncomfortable feelings and relationships could arise. What other actions, and what other difficult conversations, could also result? These are all factors that need consideration.

The approach to a conversation is most important. Those who steam in without thinking can cause even more problems, which is almost as bad as delaying the meeting. But it is important to prepare for the meeting, and get the thoughts and approach clear in your mind. Stay focused, yet calm, and also try to respect the thoughts, feelings and perspectives of the other people involved.

Tackle the difficult conversation well, and then you and your department or team should be able to progress more effectively, and will be on your way to removing the problem or problems that existed.

Here are practical tips that may guide your future difficult conversations.


Make sure you start the conversation in a pleasant and non-conffontational manner. …

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