Navigating Difficult Conversations

Today Wednesdays for Women is another in our occasional series titled “Lessons from Leaders” featuring learnings from JDA leaders on topics of interest to anyone seeking insights and experiences that can help them grow their own leadership skills.  In today’s blog, Claudia Kraft, senior consulting operations director and member of the JDA Winning Leadership program, shares what she learned about navigating difficult conversations by speaking to Rachel Scott, group vice president, Quote to Cash and Revenue Operations at JDA.

Rachel joined JDA in 2015 and leads the revenue and quote to cash teams within JDA’s Finance organization.  Prior to joining JDA, Rachel held positions at Hewlett Packard and Oracle where she specialized in revenue recognition, business practices and M&A integration.

Decision-making takes time and preparedness

I try to be well prepared when it comes to decision-making and the conversation that ensues. In my role, I may not make a decision; but I provide recommendations and outline the impact certain decisions may have.  Others may make a decision based on my advice or recommendations, so I must be absolutely certain with my answer. When I join a conversation, I try to understand both sides of a controversial discussion and/or situation.  I often need to clarify information to ensure I understand and use this point in the conversation to pause and develop my recommendation.  I do rely on my gut feel frequently but may also need to follow up with others to be able to reach a conclusion, which I will communicate by saying something like “I think the answer is this; but let me check and get back to you.” When I join a discussion impromptu and cannot prepare, I rely on past situations / similar cases, listen and take notes, and then develop an answer.  I have almost 20 years of experience in the software industry, which I leverage every day. In some cases, I may have to advise that I need to look into something further, talk with my team or other advisors and then provide an answer.

Anticipate, and understand others’ point of view

I always attempt to make sure I understand all points of view and try to put myself into their shoes. The thing I love about my role is that it is not just a compliance and accounting role, I really must have a business mindset in talking to business leaders.  I need to listen and have empathy to be able to do my job well. Drawing upon experience really helps me when reviewing the business case or understanding the background.  As we are frequently entering into new business models, I have to be open and flexible to new ways of thinking as well.   This is constantly challenging me, and I can’t just go to what I am comfortable with / have always done.  When discussing potential decisions, I try to prepare by anticipating what the team probably will raise. First, I try to repeat the concern or make sure I can frame the issue so that there is no misunderstanding. It is easy to assume or to misinterpret the facts.  I really try not to make any judgement in advance.

One thing I always do, especially if someone is unhappy with something coming from me or my team, is to take it upon myself to own it and resolve it. I think some of that ownership helped me to be successful because I definitely don’t shy away from responsibility.  On the other hand, you have to ensure your accountability includes being fair and holding others accountable as well.

Navigating circular discussions and ad hoc decisions

As you can imagine, sometimes conversations get circular, particularly with some who do not listen or argue over the same topic again and again or just want to see it their way. I try to bridge the discussion back to the topic at hand, and focus on whatever decision needs to be made to end the debate. I reiterate the considerations to be aware of in making a decision to try to empower someone to move forward.  I generally would rather provide a recommendation and help lead someone to an answer than just give a yes/no response.

When it comes to ad hoc decisions, which I encounter often, you need to be comfortable to say, ‘this is my opinion, I would like to go and check with a couple of other people and/or do some research, but my gut is telling me we should do _____’.   I find that JDA leaders are very supportive of our people; they’d rather wait and give room for someone who wants to think through a topic; they would rather you take an extra day and come back with a more informed answer versus giving an answer on the fly that then might have to change.  I really try to be consistent and reliable to people.

On keeping emotions in check

I strongly believe we must hold everyone accountable for how they treat others. I have been in situations at a prior company where someone was very disrespectful during a conference call. I told the person that they were not being professional, and asked them please do not speak to my team member  (or me) like this.  Saying something like this during a call or meeting usually stops bad behavior immediately. I would also discuss this with the person 1:1 afterwards.

Developing your communication style

I think you have to be your genuine self, always striving to improve, but not trying to be someone else.  If you want to work on your communication, I recommend picking someone you admire see how they handle themselves and try to adopt some of their approaches, but always make them your own.

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