📺 Stream EntrepreneurTV for Free 📺

True Leaders Know the Value of Having Hard Conversations How do you tackle the conversations that no one wants to have? Good leaders wade right in.

By Mario Ciabarra Edited by Chelsea Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Have you ever disagreed with a co-worker? I'm not talking about a disagreement on how to approach a work project but instead, a disagreement with their views on diversity, inclusion or other more political stances. Did you engage them in a conversation on why you disagree, or did you just choose not to engage?

In the past, I tended to go for the latter — deciding that it wasn't my place to have conversations with members of my team about their beliefs or the values they hold in the workplace. That is until I encountered members of my team whose views of the world seemed in direct contradiction with the values we hold as a company.

Individuals become leaders, because people trust and believe in them. They live up to their word, honor boundaries, treat everyone equitably and hold others accountable when they cross a line. Over the past two years, I've had to hold myself and my team members accountable to our commitment of "happy people, happy and diverse culture." I've had to have conversations with members of my team who had differing opinions, with the goal of trying to reach an understanding of our differences and determine if our company was really the best place for them.

Holding people accountable — especially family members, friends and even our teammates — is easier said than done. We're often tempted to avoid uncomfortable conversations, but it's precisely the discomfort we feel that should be a signal to talk about and resolve it.

Related: 4 Conversational Habits Every Entrepreneur Should Learn

It's okay to disagree

It can be hard to approach controversial conversations not knowing the outcome or all the right things to say. It's important to remember that part of the process is messing up, saying the wrong thing, apologizing and learning how to do better. In a polarized world where people with one political viewpoint or another are only consuming information from sources that validate their opinions, responsible leaders can open up new spaces for more authentic conversation.

One of our company objectives at Quantum Metric is a healthy and diverse culture, because we recognize that creating an equitable workplace won't happen on its own. Backed by a diverse workforce across genders, ethnicities and even cognitive abilities, leaders can make better decisions more effectively, run businesses that earn more money and help employees feel more represented and heard. Creating an environment that is inclusive of and supports diverse teams involves encouraging and mediating tough conversations around highly charged social issues.

Leaders who promote diversity have a responsibility to create an inclusive and safe space to protect and refine those values within a team. The point isn't to only hire or work with those who think the exact same way as you do. What's needed are boundaries that ensure each and every member of your team can feel heard, safe and included. Having those tough conversations grants you the opportunity to disagree and understand what side of that boundary someone might fall on. With that culture, comes a multitude of opinions — ones we, as leaders, agree with and ones we don't.

Related: 10 Things Entrepreneurs Never Want to Talk About, But Should

Poking holes can be a good thing

My son is 12 now, but at an early age, he learned to poke at the boundaries his mom and I set up for him. Learning about boundaries is an important part of childhood development, but it was equally important for him to question and discuss certain rules with us, even if he didn't get his way in the end.

In the same way, an ethical leader needs to establish boundaries for their team to feel safe and grow, but also allow people to question those boundaries in a healthy way. When employees question a company's policies, leaders can call out areas that may be unnecessary, out of date or in need of adjustment.

If someone falls out of line with the company's diversity policies, first, give them an opportunity to open their minds with a conversation. Let them poke holes, but step in with facts when their criticisms fly wide off the mark. If they refuse to examine their fixed mindset and their presence makes others feel unsafe or undervalued, a leader needs to realize when someone will never represent who they are as a company.

Standing by your values is tough, but there are times when leaders need to draw that line, no matter who bends the rules — even when they do it themselves.

Related: 5 Ways to Ensure You Have True Diversity Within Your Business

Hard conversations are for learning, not winning

A true leader knows that good conversations are about learning, not winning, especially when someone disagrees. Being open to hearing another's experiences is an opportunity to better understand their opinion and how it might be affecting their work or the team. This openness goes both ways — employees with more experience in social issues might think a company's approach to diversity could be better, while other employees might stand in direct conflict with it. Leaders demonstrate a willingness to listen to disparate points of view, not to let someone else win, but to determine whether this person's disagreement can be regarded as aligned with their organization.

In recent years, social media has facilitated tougher conversations than ever before. This is how we keep getting better and start to right society's wrongs. For me, having tough conversations with my team prompts me to learn about and understand issues I might not have thought about otherwise. So, when my daughter comes to me asking about the struggles of transgender teens, for example, I can have that conversation with her in a more informed way.

The power to accelerate social change is in our hands every time we choose to have hard conversations. We spend most of our waking hours at work, and global disruptions, waves of change and political pressures don't just happen after 5:00. There's an opportunity to do more than achieve business success, and it starts with having open, honest, and yes, sometimes difficult discussions with one another.
Mario Ciabarra

Founder & CEO of Quantum Metric

Mario Ciabarra, founder and CEO of Quantum Metric, is a computer scientist and tech entrepreneur who’s passionate about pairing world-class teams with today’s most pressing enterprise-technology challenges.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

These Coworkers-Turned-Friends Started a Side Hustle on Amazon — Now It's a 'Full Hustle' Earning Over $20 Million a Year: 'Jump in With Both Feet'

Achal Patel and Russell Gong met at a large consulting firm and "bonded over a shared vision to create a mission-led company."

Side Hustle

How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Successful Business

A hobby, interest or charity project can turn into a money-making business if you know the right steps to take.

Business News

These Are the 10 Most Profitable Cities for Airbnb Hosts, According to a New Report

Here's where Airbnb property owners and hosts are making the most money.


Want to Be More Productive? Here's How Google Executives Structure Their Schedules

These five tactics from inside Google will help you focus and protect your time.

Business News

How Much Do Engineers, Software Developers, and Analysts Make at Apple? See Salary List

Using application data from highly-skilled foreign workers, Insider revealed a range of salaries at the tech giant.