December 2020

Leading Controversial Conversations

Engage in hot topics gracefully.

Keep Losing the Fear

As a leader during a global pandemic, you likely have engaged in debate over tricky topics. In the November Toastmaster magazine, Greg Glasgow wrote an article on Mastering Controversial Conversations, which can serve as a guide for leaders when engaging in controversial conversations.

Speak from experience

As Glasgow mentions in his article, drawing on your experiences is a great way to share opinions where the other party simply cannot deny what you are saying. When you are able to connect with personal stories, it’s easier for others to connect with your words. As a leader having a conversation on a controversial topic, your experiences can give context to why you hold your opinion. When you have to act and make decisions on these topics, personal experiences can help others accept tough decisions that have to be made.

Listen intently

When speaking on a passionate topic, it’s easy to get wrapped up in defending your viewpoint and ignoring others. As a leader, this can lead to repercussions, even if they are not immediate. By listening and reiterating a person’s point, you can show that you are willing to engage in tough conversations.

Making decisions on controversial topics will almost always upset some people; however, when you can show that you have listened and taken in all viewpoints, it can be easier for others to accept that decision. By refusing to listen or not showing that you are fully engaged, people may feel that your decision was based on personal opinion and not the full story.

Keep an open mind

As a leader, it’s okay to hold strong opinions on a given topic. Remember that others may have strong opinions on the same topic, and that’s okay too. When engaged in discussions on controversial topics, keep an open mind. Being able to absorb information and adapt your thinking or viewpoints doesn’t make you a weak leader. In fact, being able to challenge your own opinions is a sign of a strong leader and one people will want to follow. Next time, don’t shut down dissenting opinions. By listening and keeping an open mind, you might just find yourself learning new facts and adjusting your way of thinking.

Show respect

Above all else, always show respect. You may wholeheartedly disagree with an opinion, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Remember that discussing controversial topics doesn’t have to end in agreement. However, showing a lack of respect to another’s opinion can damage your reputation as a leader. At the end, thanking the other participant(s) for engaging in discussion can be a sign of a mature and strong leader.

Additional resources