Fearless Communication: A Leadership Superpower

Engaging in difficult conversations can be challenging, and many leaders find themselves slipping down the path of avoidance. Eventually, minor issues become much bigger workplace headaches. Fearless, compassionate communication is a more rewarding alternative and is a leadership superpower you can master.

Nosi, a leader we can relate to

Nosi, a decisive and caring leader at a large insurance company, has managed her department for two years. Her team’s performance has grown in leaps under her watch and she’s in line to receive a leadership award. But she’s got a secret that’s threatening to undo her progress.

For Nosi, delivering poor performance feedback is the scariest thing in the world, especially if it risks impacting the recipient emotionally. So, to avoid the discomfort of tough conversations, she leaves out crucial elements of her feedback.

Simon, a well-liked team player who reports to Nosi has given his best effort and attitude but has not met the department’s performance standards. Sadly, he hasn’t had the opportunity to fix his shortcomings because he hasn’t received critical feedback, he simply doesn’t know his work is a problem. His performance has caught the attention of senior management and now he’s up for evaluation.

A problem that impacts a wider audience

This spiraling scenario is a common reality in the workplace. Reports suggest that up to 80% of employees avoid crucial yet difficult conversations. Many more are affected though, Simon for instance is not the one having the communication difficulty but stands to be impacted. This means that if we have leaders in our organisation who struggle to engage, we may have a larger, unseen group affected by the issue. So exactly where does this problem stem from?

leader may fear spoiling a good relationship with one of their team members. Perhaps they fear the employee will take the feedback personally, feel hurt and act out.

The leader may also struggle to give feedback that’s specific and separates performance from personal character. Their awareness of their poor delivery may prompt them to avoid it altogether.

Then there’s the fear of conflict. Some discussions may feel confrontational and cause the interaction to get heated. When emotions run high, so does the level of discomfort which can create a tense atmosphere.

Care personally and challenge directly

Changing our perspective towards tough conversations is the first step to mastering this tricky skill. The mindset we need to adopt is that honesty in our engagement indicates genuine respect. Speaking the truth, no matter how awkwardly the scenario unfolds, means that we care about the recipient, and even if it’s not well received right away, it should help the employee thrive in the future.

Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor – How to get what you want by saying what you mean, has worked in some of the toughest Silicon Valley corporates. Her approach to difficult conversations is to “care personally and challenge directly.” She believes we should engage as honestly and directly as possible because we care so deeply. It may feel counterintuitive, but with practice, it will lead to the right outcomes for all involved.

Coaching develops powerful communication skills

Emotional intelligence and communication skills are key components for delivering effective feedback, and anyone that enjoys development in this area will be in a better position to speak confidently and directly without crossing the boundaries between personal character and performance.

At Change Partners we work closely with leaders and support them with powerful feedback tools and conversation models to help alleviate the pressure of difficult discussions. A professional coaching initiative will help leaders identify areas of improvement in their communication, develop their emotional intelligence, and will empower them to care deeply but engage directly.

As a leading provider with 25 years of experience coaching leaders in blue-chip companies and government, Change Partners is perfectly positioned to help you advance.


Helene Muller is an International Executive Coach at Change Partners. She’s committed to empowering leaders and is passionate about helping others develop a vision for their future and a strategy to achieve their goals. Contact her at helenemuller@change.co.za or on 083 225 8984 and take your performance forward.

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