Leadership – Being Comfortable in Uncomfortable Situations

Leadership (as defined by the GLOBE study) is “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organisations of which they are members

Being comfortable in uncomfortable situations is key to being able to fully incarnate your leadership ability; situations where people are hostile to you – criticising you, attacking you, putting your skills into question, belittling you, digging stuff up from your past, etc.

Staying grounded and confident in those kinds of situations is not easy, one option is to become passive and let the others ride roughshod over you and another option is to become aggressive and criticise back, attack back and put down the others.

A third option is to stay assertive; not upsetting others or becoming upset by others, maintaining self-control, expressing your ideas, listening to the opinions of others, showing a willingness to integrate the ideas of others into solutions, etc.

A lot of the uncomfortable situations we find ourselves in are often predictable, the difficult conversation with a team member, taking over a disgruntled team, the project meeting with unhappy stakeholders. In this article, I propose some hints & tips with regards to how to stay, Focused, Inclusive, Respectful and Rational in some of these uncomfortable situations.

Staying focussed in uncomfortable situations is paramount, it is very easy to get side-tracked, avoid difficult issues and lose the thread. Be clear with yourself with regards to what you want to achieve; the decision that needs to be made, the agreement that needs to be found, the problem that needs to be solved, etc.

You need to stay focussed & determined with regards to your end goal without becoming blinkered and stubborn with regards to how to achieve it; this doesn’t mean that the “end justifies the means” nor does it mean avoiding issues. Ask yourself regularly, “is what’s going on here & now helping us to reach our end goal”, if the answer is “no”, ask yourself what you can do to bring things back on course.

Be willing to make compromises, to accommodate and to defend what for you is “non-negotiable”; all of this with the aim to integrate diverse opinions & ideas and avoiding having winners and losers at the end of the day.

Break bigger issues down into “bitesize” chunks that can be dealt with more easily and show to others when progress is made.

Don’t look for consensus on every issue; save it for the key issues when you need everyone’s engagement and commitment.

“Stay focused without being blinkered”

Staying inclusive when others are shouting you down and criticising you is not easy; the tendency is often to shout even louder and criticise back – which leads to a vicious circle of self-destruction.

Getting others on board is essential in building a critical mass of “positiveness” going in the same direction.

Make sure that everyone gets their say; calm down the extroverts who can talk for hours and encourage the introverts who need time to get their ideas together; provide structure for those who need to “see where we are going” and provide flexibility for those who need “to get out of the box”.

Identify your zealots and champions and make sure you keep them on board. Identify your “floating voters” and get them on your side. Identify your adversaries and treat them as such – adversaries, not enemies; they are not out to kill you and you are not out to kill them.

Don’t only listen to and take into account those who agree with you, try to understand the reasons why some don’t agree with; have you upset them, have you taken their place – empathise with them, tell them how you would feel in a similar situation, share your concerns with them but stay focused (see above).

“Include others without excluding yourself”

Staying respectful when others are clearly being disrespectful is sometimes difficult. The tendency today seems to be very much about name-calling, exaggerating personality traits and casting doubt on personal intentions.

Concentrate on people’s ideas & opinions and less on who they are – “be soft on people, but hard on their ideas”. When people dismiss your idea because “it will never work”, ask them what they mean by “never”, ask them “why they think it won’t work”, ask them “what they think is missing to make it work” – don’t get dragged down into name-calling – “stay above the crowd”. Be patient, let people vent their anger, their frustration, their annoyance; once they have vented their emotional energy show empathy (see above) and understanding, show that you have listened to their concerns, recognise their positive intention and take into account what you can.

Respect everyone’s opinions, not just the subject experts; help the subject experts to explain their reasoning to the less expert without being condescending.

Create confidence within the group such that people can express their feelings and thoughts without the risk of being “shot down in public”.

“Respect for others starts with respect for oneself”.

Staying rational when your reptilian brain is telling you that you are in danger takes training. It is very rare today (I hope) that we find ourselves in real “physical” danger; people may be angry and annoyed with us, they may be shouting at us and they may even be threatening us with visits from senior management and the like; however, there is no physical danger.

Put some distance between “what is going on out there” and “what is going on inside”; because the person in front of you is in an emotional state, doesn’t mean you need to be in an emotional state – you can’t control the emotion you are feeling inside but you can learn to manage how you “manifest” the emotion externally.

Be aware of your stress level when you feel under attack; breathe deeply and slowly, tell yourself “it’s not me they are against, it’s my ideas”, don’t let your reptilian brain get the better of your cortex, bring those who are supporting you into the discussion to give you time to “cool down”.

Distinguish between facts and generalisations; “everyone is against this”, “everyone knows this will never work”, “we don’t have enough money”, “other companies have tried and failed”. Dig down the “ladder of inference” to get to some basic facts – how many companies, which companies, how much money. Ask for concrete examples & solid evidence and don’t be satisfied with, “studies have shown” – which studies, by who, when …

“Be factual without becoming dogmatic”.

If you can learn to remain focussed without becoming blinkered, spontaneous without becoming impulsive, accommodating without becoming acquiescing and disciplined without becoming rigid in situations that you know are going to be uncomfortable; then you will be able to deal better with those unexpected situations.

Replace unconscious behavioural patterns with conscious behavioural practices”.


Bob Larcher
Bob Larcher
Bob Larcher is an independent leadership development consultant; he has been designing & delivering personal, team & leadership development programs for almost 35 years, both in English and in French and his clients include Blue Chip corporate giants, Charities, Start-ups, and the Public Sector. Bob is also a visiting lecturer at several French Business Schools. Since his first leadership seminar in 1986, Bob has designed and delivered in excess of 3000 days of training & coaching. His background is in Outdoor Management Development and he was previously a shareholder of a major player in the UK market; he is an Accredited Practitioner of the UK Institute of Outdoor Learning and a member of the panel reviewing articles for their journal, “Horizons”. He is based in Toulouse in France but works all over Europe. Bob is an accredited Insights Discovery Personal Profile user, an accredited Integrated Leadership Measure user and a Master Trainer in Mental Toughness. He also designs customized 360° leadership & management evaluations Bob is passionate about helping people to discover, develop and deploy their leadership capacity in order to enable them to drive the personal, organizational and societal transformations they are involved in.

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