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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Julie Dupont: Navigating Difficult Conversations

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

with Julie Dupont, Owner - Reimagine Leadership

Being an effective leader means having difficult conversations. You do not have to avoid uncomfortable conflicts because you just don’t know how to have them appropriately. Julie Dupont, of Reimagine Leadership, is an expert on navigating difficult conversations and the emotional intelligence skills required for doing so. With a little preparation and understanding of these skills, you can be a better communicator for your employees, co-workers, and clients.

Notes from the Show

In both business and personal life, we have all had the need for those awkward, uncomfortable interactions to address a problem. In this interview, Julie Dupont of Reimagine Leadership, explains to us the need to navigate difficult conversations and the skills necessary for handling them with grace.

Difficult conversations are labeled just that because they are difficult to have. This can be for a variety of reasons, often surrounded by fear - fear of hurting someone's feelings, fear of retaliation, or fear of conflict. While these conversations can be about many things from personal issues like an employee's odor or appearance or behavioral changes involving clients or productivity, what really matters is how you start the conversation.

Emotional Intelligence Skills are the hallmark of these conversations and what Julie teaches. These skills are built on 4 important life skills.

Self Awareness: This is more than knowing your strengths and weaknesses but knowing your triggers, how you are perceived, and the ability to label and understand your feelings.

Self Management: Staying choiceful in what you do. It's the difference between a knee-jerk reaction and being mindful and thoughtful in every response.

Social Awareness: Being aware of and anticipating the emotion of others, reading the mood of a room or individual. Having empathetic listening.

Relationship Management: The ability to navigate conversations in a careful, mindful way, using all of your skills to maintain relationships and foster collaboration.

Possessing Emotional Intelligence is imperative for a positive work environment and building and maintaining trust with employees, co-workers, and clients. These skills allow for a mindset that is understanding and ready to listen. In addition to Emotional Intelligence, Julie stresses the planning conversations. Good planning for any difficult conversation includes mental, physical, and logistical preparation. This is not just what you’re going to say, this is the where, the how, and the who. It may seem picky but intentional and thoughtful actions in a conversation really go a long way in how they are received.

The world is changing. Employees know and value good communication skills. If you’re going to be an effective leader today, honing these skills is important. Julie is an objective set of eyes and ears for her clients and conflicts like these they may be facing. You can find out more about her at Reimagine Leadership or reach her via email,

What’s Inside:

  • What are difficult conversations in the workplace?

  • Why is it important to have difficult conversations?

  • What is emotional Intelligence?

  • What it means to prepare for a conversation.

  • Why are communication skills important in every business?

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38

Hello and welcome back to stop the noise. I'm your host, Susan Tatum and today I'm talking with Julie Dupont, who's the principal strategist and owner of reimagine leadership. And welcome, Julie.

Julie Dupont 0:50

Thanks, Susan. Nice to be here.

Susan Tatum 0:52

It's great to have you here. You're coming from somewhere in Ontario, right?

Julie Dupont 0:55

Yeah. Yeah. Not too far from Toronto

Susan Tatum 0:57

ugh, is it cold already?

Julie Dupont 1:00

It is actually a very beautiful day today. So we're well above zero, which is nice. No snows hit the ground yet. So we're doing alright.

Susan Tatum 1:08

And for those of us Americans, she's talking about 32 degrees, not not ours here. Although you probably do get down to there around that area. So chilly. You've got you are a leadership and team effectiveness consultant. And I know you've got almost two decades of experience in doing this. And you worked primarily with manufacturing firms in the past?

Julie Dupont 1:36

Yeah, most of my experience has been with global automotive manufacturing companies all over the world. And so having many opportunities to work with various leaders and their teams, and growing into a passion for me really enjoy it.

Susan Tatum 1:53

So you decided about what, a couple of years ago that it was time to go out on your own?

Julie Dupont 1:57

Yeah, I thought I would take the leap. Yeah, I think you know, what I was doing adds a lot of value. And I think it'd be great to share it with, with more companies more industry. Yeah.

Susan Tatum 2:08

Yeah. Cool. So when we were talking, we had a conversation a little while ago, and the subject of difficult conversations came up. And so I invited you back to talk about it, because I think this is an issue that occurs in across all kinds of businesses and in our personal lives as well. And I know it's something that I've struggled with. Trying to avoid, but it's always better if you don't, so let's jump into that. When you talk about difficult conversations, Julie, what do you mean by that?

Julie Dupont 2:38

Yeah, we're talking about conversations that are uncomfortable or awkward, or that we would just rather avoid then initiate and, you know, that could be for a variety of reasons, right? Could be for no personal reasons, or for personal issues, such as, you know, having to deal with someone's body odor. Right. That's, that's hard.

Susan Tatum 3:00


Julie Dupont 3:01

Yeah, personality differences, right, realizing you can't change for someone is, but it just doesn't work for you very well, right. That's, that's harder. Sometimes it's looking for behavioral change. Right. So having to ask an employee to do something differently in terms of like, discipline, or worse termination. Or maybe as a business owner, you've got, you know, a mistake, a big mistake was made with a customer. And there needs to be conversation about that. That's not easy. Right. So by definition, we call them difficult conversations, because they're, they can be really tough to have, and mostly comes from that feeling of awkwardness or discomfort.

Susan Tatum 3:37

So in your work, In your in your line of work? What What? What are the most common difficult conversations that come up?

Julie Dupont 3:46

yeah, I think, for most of the time, it's usually around a lack of proper communication. And so I their expectations were not clearly communicated. So when someone's trying to do something without being clear on communication, that's when mistakes are made. That's when people think they're doing their best work, they find out they're not. And then there's that best shot of finding out that you're not performing the way you thought you were, as the leader having to have that conversation to tell somebody that they're not performing. That's tough. So now you're getting discomfort on both sides. Um, sometimes it's just, you know, I mentioned personality differences. Sometimes it's just not getting along very well with a colleague. And you know, I deal with a lot of management teams. And so as a management team, if you know, your manager and your colleague who's also a manager, and neither one of you have authority over the other person, Something's just not working. Someone has to have has to at least start that conversation. And it can be really, really difficult sometimes.

Susan Tatum 4:43

So I, I think I mentioned to you when we were talking before, I have a colleague that a colleague and friend that's she has a master's degree in conflict resolution, is that part of what? I mean? I guess if you don't communicate and you allow these difficult conversations to not happen, then you hit the point where there is some major conflict that has to be resolved.

Julie Dupont 5:08

Yeah, I mean, that's a really likely outcome, right? I mean, there's so many things that makes it difficult for us to have these conversations, right? So, biggest one being fear. So fear what well fear of hurting the other person's feelings, fear of getting our feelings hurt, because the other person's retaliating, maybe you're afraid that it's going to turn into a complex situation. So you know, you're wanting to have a conversation with someone. And you know what, they might not take it the right way, this could go horribly wrong. It could turn into an blown out conflict, I can just learn to not do it. Or the conflict does happen. And because you don't know how to navigate the the conversation very well. Now you're afraid of harming the relationship of saying something or doing something in that conversation that causes the relationship to go south, or they say or do something, you don't know how to handle very well. And again, in reacting to what comes out. Damage and trust in the relationship starts to go down. So yeah, there's there's a whole bunch of things that kind of prevent us from having these conversations, you know, how we might feel after the conversation, you know, you want to be able to walk out of these things, feeling like you did your best, like you can hold your head up high that you maintained dignity and respect of yourself and the other person. Sometimes we're afraid we're going to walk out of there feeling guilt, shame, embarrassment. And so there's all these things that are acting on people that prevent us from having these conversations.

Susan Tatum 6:32

So is it a lack of being prepared or knowledge about how to how to have these kinds of conversations that drives the uncomfortable feeling? Or is it just our emotions running wild? Or maybe remembering bad situations from the past?

Julie Dupont 6:51

Yes. Yes, you at all. Yeah, I mean, for sure, right. I mean, there's so much acting on everything that we do. So you know, how the experiences that we've had, you know, how skilled we feel, how confident we feel, how much we've prepared for these conversations, all of this can have a huge impact on our willingness to engage with them. And so you know, one of the things that many times I'll tell people to really start to, I guess to hone is, I'll start talking about you know, if having difficult conversations comes with your role, because usually when you are a position of leadership or business ownership, it's going to be part of your job, like it or not, if you're not having those conversations, something's not right, it will blow up eventually. And so what I'll tell these people is, you know, start looking at how you can learn and practice emotional intelligence skills, because that is huge, huge for being able to have good conversations.

Susan Tatum 7:48

Well, let's dive into that a little bit, Julie, because emotional intelligence, it i It gets talked about a lot almost to the point of being a buzzword, or something that we think we understand what it is because we hear it so much, but we don't really. So what do you mean, when you talk about working on emotional intelligence?

Julie Dupont 8:10

Yeah, so emotional intelligence kind of has kind of all the other sneaky skills within it, right? So it's not just one thing, they call it skills, for a reason. And so in emotional intelligence skills, we have self awareness, social awareness, self management, and relationship management. So if I can, if you'll give me liberty to just break these down to explain it better. So self awareness, first thing, right, this is about self awareness, knowing one's self. So it's not just saying, Yeah, I know what my strengths and weaknesses are so so much deeper than that. It's Do you know what your triggers are? Do you know how you are perceived? Do you know how you are feeling in a particular moment? Can you label it? Can you perceive it? And can you manage it? Right? And so when we're talking about self awareness, it's not just Yeah, I know what I like and what I don't like but it's really getting at, you know, do you know yourself deeply enough that you understand how you can be perceived. Once you have that knowledge, then you can start working on the second skill around self management. Right? This is impulse control. This is about being being able to say choiceful in what you say and what you do. So it's it's the difference between I need your reaction, someone says something sets me off, I react versus someone says something, I remain a choice, I stay mindful about how I want to respond. And then I do so thoughtfully. Right, staying in control of myself and potentially the situation, then we have social awareness. So this is about being aware of the other person's emotional state, maybe even anticipating an emotional state, right, it's being able to read the mood of a room, it's being able to use empathic listening skills, right. So it's about being able to see the bigger picture and understand what's going on with the person in front of you, or the people in front of you, so that you can respond appropriately.

And then relationship management, it's kind of like the culmination of all of those three. So if you're able to be aware of your triggers, be aware of your emotional state and gauge what's going on inside of you so that you can then manage it. And at the same time, you're watching and gauging what's going on with the other person, you are in a better position to be aware, and just not of what you're saying, but also how you're saying it, right, you're able to navigate the conversation in such a way that you are, you are not destroying the trust that you worked so hard to build, because we know Susan, that takes a long time to build trust with people. Minutes, seconds to lose it. Right. And so it's, it's using your skills, to maintain the relationship and to bring people along with you and to have that collaborative, that collaborative way of working together.

Susan Tatum 11:10

So I can see just, you know, thinking about my myself and people that I've worked with, it seems like you could have two extremes and a spectrum of one being hotheads that just go off at the snap of a finger, and have difficulty controlling themselves. And the other would be people that are just don't show emotion at all, and are very logical thinkers and separate from their emotion. And from listening to talk, it occurs to me that there's both of them have to move towards the middle a little bit, in order to have a conversation that's going to accomplish what you want to accomplish. But how do you do that?

Julie Dupont 11:58

Yeah, I mean, thank you for asking, but you're you're absolutely right. I mean, you know, we were talking about, you know, aggressive communication style versus a passive communication style, or sometimes passive aggressive, right. And what we're aiming for with difficult conversations is an assertive style, right? Being able to say what you want or need, while maintaining respect for the other person's wants and needs, right. And so, you know, aiming for an assertive communication style is going to help us to build and maintain that trust. Other things we can do when it comes to having these conversations is watch what you're saying to yourself. So what I mean by that is, yes, it's pay attention to your mindset. Because what you think is going to influence not only what you say, and how you say it, but also what you hear. So let me give you an example. So I'm going into one of these conversations, and I'm telling myself that it's a waste of my time. And that I'm right. I'm just going to go in there, and I'm going to make sure they understand my point of view and why I'm right. Susan, what do you think how much am I going to really be willing to listen?

Susan Tatum 13:08

Not at all?

Julie Dupont 13:09

No. Because of the mindset I have going in. Whereas if I tell myself going to this conversation, I don't know everything. I don't know, you know, this situation from every side, but I want to learn, I want to hear their perspective.

Susan Tatum 13:23

So I'm willing to bet that you've worked with a lot of leaders who are more of the mindset of I'm just going to tell them that this is the way it is.

Julie Dupont 13:34

It happens it happens. I mean it's not even at least it doesn't have to always be leaders. Sometimes people just two people in conflict. Right? They want so much to both be heard, but neither is listening to the other. And we have a lot to to gain. By taking a step back and realizing the only perspective we have is our own and we don't when people say things like I know what she thinks, or all they want to do is - right they become these mind readers almost, and it's Ooh, it's a dangerous, dangerous place to be. Because now you're starting to assume you, you know more than you do. So when you go into a mindset that's curious, you're more likely to actually listen.

Susan Tatum 14:16

Do you think that our society today and in the last few years has become more aggressive or more, I seem to see more things escalate that really didn't need to, if they if everybody had the attitude and the approach that you're talking about. But you see so much of us, like just knocking heads with each other and not listening.

Julie Dupont 14:42

Yeah, it's sad. I mean, we have moved very much towards that, you know, me first kind of society, right, where it's important that I'm heard, it's important that people understand my perspective, my point of view, what I want, what I feel what I need. And when you become a leader, you don't matter anymore. It's hard news to hear, but it really isn't about you anymore. Mainly, we know that the best people leaders put their people first. And that means making their people be heard, be felt be needed be valued, right. And so it really is around listening first and approaching every conversation with curiosity and learning. Because, yeah, when you become I mean, the word Tyrant is coming to mind when you're that leader who's going to fist pound and this is the way it's going to be. You're shutting people down. And let me tell you, we know this isn't millennials will not stand for it. They will not. You know, I've heard Millennials be treated that way from leaders and look at that leader and say, My father doesn't talk to me that way, I'm not going to let you. Right. And so it's it's recognizing that we need to shift our focus if we're going to be very effective leaders today.

Susan Tatum 15:50

Well, and I think, to your example, it's got to be absolutely critical in this market with trying to hire and retain good people. I mean, you could you could put your company out of business, easily if if you don't get the right attitude, I suppose. Yeah. So in your work with your clients with leadership, and then and then team development training. So I hear you saying that emotional intelligence comes up a lot in this. So how do you how do you work with clients? To help them get more or better? emotionally intelligent?

Julie Dupont 16:30

Yeah, I mean, there's a couple different things we can do. Of course, one of them is the training, right? So being able to learn those skills of emotional intelligence, learning how to prepare. So, you know, preparation is critical, critical to having a successful conversation. And by preparation, I don't mean gathering ammunition. Because I've seen these people, yeah, I'm going to prepare, I'm going to go get my files that has all the facts and every mistake they've ever made since they started in this company. And I'm right, that that's not what preparation is. We talk about preparation, we're talking about mental first right. We talked about the mindset that you have, but we're also talking about the physical and logistical preparations, right. So for instance, so many things right on the success of these programs, of these conversations, including, where's it happening? When's it happening? The acidity a stand? I mean, these are these seem they seem like nitpicky things, but they matter, they matter, it's not just walking into one of these conversations without any thought as to the outcome. But thinking really what's important here, and if you let guide you that maintaining the trust and relationship is important, you need to give thought to these things. Right? Do you have do you have a third party present? Or do you not? Or when do you? And what about timing? Timing is huge. Right? You don't you don't meet somebody by the watercooler and say, How's your weekend? Great. Hey, you know, I gotta tell you about your performance, right? Like this, that Whoa, right? That's not the way it works. And so, you know, training to learn about how to prepare, how to gain the skills around emotional intelligence is really a great place to start, you know, learning how to open powerfully, right, so we earlier talked about that assertive communication, right? it doesn't come naturally to a lot of people, right. Depending on your communication style. Sometimes I would just rather say nothing because there's no conflict that way. It's easy. Easy in the moment. But if that issue keeps coming back over and over, it gets harder and harder to address. And so with the training, you kind of learn about that, right? You learn how to communicate in a way that's going to help you to have the conversation respectfully, and how to manage yourself when the other person may not be grown up without it. Because sometimes that happens.

Susan Tatum 18:58


Julie Dupont 18:59

And then after you've had training, what usually works really well is is some individual coaching. And so, you know, you've you've learned kind of the base knowledge, when it comes to actually implementing those sometimes it's, it's nice to have someone in your corner who's there to say, Okay, remember what we talked about? So for this conversation you're about to have, right? Well, how can we best prepare for that now? And what's going to hold you back? And and do you want to? Do you want to play around you want to roleplay, and I can be that difficult person and see how you manage yourself. I mean, it can be a really great way to get practice safely. So that, you know, when I throw that ball in your face, it doesn't seem like such a shock. When the other person does it, at least you've had a chance to think through a response.

Susan Tatum 19:42

Yeah. And if you record it, you can see how you responded. And that can be a real eye opener sometimes too I find in any kind of conversation. So Julie, let's talk a little bit about team dynamics. And because up until this point, we've talked about sort of two people talking, and one person that, that you're coaching with that? What happens with in teams?

Julie Dupont 20:09

Yeah, that's always interesting, right? Because now it's not just one on one, it's one to many. But you know, what, it's, it's, it's the same and it's not. So it's the same in that if everyone can be on the same page with regards to learning about what emotional intelligence skills are, how to use them, how to use them with each other, what to do when you try it, and it fails, because that will happen.

Susan Tatum 20:34

Very good.

Julie Dupont 20:35

Right? How do you recover from that? Right, that a lot of the work I do with management teams is really around, you know, how do you learn to get the trust back that's been lost because of poor communication? Right? So someone slips up someone did, you know made a decision without consulting anyone or someone? You know, there's, there's a personality clash. That happens, right? Just the way people approach their their work sometimes is caused enough for tension. So it's learning how do I? How do I work with this person, when they're so different from me different doesn't mean wrong? Different, right? What I did, there are parts of their styles that are very effective that they do better than I do. But for those parts, where they are so different, how do I learn to work with them? Effectively? This is the stuff that we talk about. Right? So how do we leverage each other's strengths? And how do we, how do we lift each other up? When someone's weaknesses getting in the way of progress? Hey, that's a strength for me, let me support you. And when I fall down, you're gonna have a skill set to bring me up. Right? And so so this is how, you know, I'm working with, with management teams, it's really around, how do you learn enough about yourself, and about the people you work with, that you can continue to bolster the relationships that may have been damaged when people were kind of trying to feel their way through.

Susan Tatum 21:48

I, in my experience, I think you're almost guaranteed to have some kind of personality issues on a management team, just by definition, because you're pulling from so different, so many different functional areas that are appealing to just different kinds of people. That's cool. So we could talk about this for a very long time, but I do I do want to ask you just a few questions because I know a lot of our listeners are fairly new in their businesses. And they are tend to be professional services type of businesses. And I just like to ask you. So you've been doing this for two years. What would you say? What are the most challenging things that you've encountered so far along this in going out on your own and facing the world growing a business?

Julie Dupont 22:37

Hmm. Um, for me, there's a couple of things. So I think the first would have been learning how to be every department. And so coming from an internal position where I very much specialized in, you know, my skill set is very specialized, you know, the knowledge I have is very specialized, I've done what I've been able to do very, very well, that, you know, I don't have to work quite as hard as it anymore, right? It comes to me, I've got, I stay on top of it from, you know, learning perspective. And now, I've decided to do something that means, okay, so I'm not just, you know, an organizational development specialist anymore. I am the marketing department, and the finance department, and the Business Development Department and the sales department. And that's been very interesting, because it's all things I know, very little to nothing about. And so an incredibly steep learning curve for me. But at the same time, I value learning a lot. So if there's been some excitement that goes with that, as I'm learning, you know, how do people do that? So the people who do do it? How do they, right? What is the thing they need to know? learn? Do? that, you know, allows them to be effective. So I'm finding it quite interesting. Some of it, it's like, yeah, I can do this, right, that's fine. I'm in luck, gonna do it as good as a person who does it for a living would do it enough to get me by, there's other parts of it were, you know, I'd rather you know, pick my eyes over the spoon, then sit there and, you know, deal with it. And so for those parts, I'm looking at hiring people, right, so getting someone for who that is a passion, who, for whom it is a strength, and looking at how we can partner together that way. And then that leaves me to do the things that I enjoy, or that I'm already good at leaving, leaving those things that I'm not so great at to someone who is.

Susan Tatum 24:37

So how did you go about learning? So you, you you walked into the situation where you realized, okay, there's a whole bunch of stuff? I don't know. How did you go about filling that void or increasing your knowledge?

Julie Dupont 24:53

Yeah, so starting with, you know, looking for resources was the first place going to small business centers that we have locally, that are, you know, funded by the government. And that's what they do is they have programs where they teach people interested in starting small businesses, what they need to know. And again, they're not going so deep, that they're sitting side by side and helping you open up a spreadsheet to do your cash flow statements. Right. It's not that, that hands on but enough to know that, hey, I got to do a cash flow statement. Right? It's enough to let me know, here's what's involved in starting a business. What I liked about the way I did it, was I started looking at that stuff before I made the plunge, because I wanted to know, what I was getting into and whether I thought I can handle it or not. And so getting involved and learning about those things. And then you know, being able to make the decision. Okay, that is something I think I could do myself versus that is something I don't even want to attend to and give that to someone else. But yeah, really is looking for resources that are available, and they're out there. They really are. And I would encourage anyone who's, you know, contemplating starting their own business to start doing the research before you take the plunge to see if this is something that you're interested in?

Susan Tatum 26:16

Yeah, yeah. Well, so one last question, what's been the most rewarding part of what you're doing being on your own?

Julie Dupont 26:23

The most rewarding part is the people I get to work with. And so because I work mainly with leaders and their teams, I have met some really smart, capable, amazing people who really understand what it means to be a people leader. These are people who are really willing. They're willing to put their time work and effort into being better as an individual being better as a leader, but also in helping their people to do and be their best. Right. These are people who really get it they understand that The only way that they are going to make the kind of progress and honestly, the kind of money they want to make, is by having a workforce who's highly engaged, who is motivated, who's willing to go above and beyond. And that comes mainly from the, from the relationship you have with your leader. And so, you know, when I have a leader who say, you know, I want my people to be loyal to me, I need them to be loyal to the company, I need them to be able to, to say, whatever you need boss, right, whatever, I'm willing to run through a brick wall for you, because that's what it takes, you know, those are the leaders that I want to work with, because they're willing to work hard to do that.

Susan Tatum 27:35

Well, it seems like by definition, that someone that hires you is enlightened to the things that you are talking about, for the most part. I mean, I'm sure that they're there's a point at which they began to struggle and realize that they had a problem, and they needed to do something about it. So so I can see where in your position you're, you're going to be working with the good guys, because they're vulnerable enough to ask for help. Right?

Julie Dupont 28:02

Exactly, exactly. There is, I mean, people will talk about, you know, vulnerability being a weakness, but we know, we know it is a sign of courage, being able to ask for help is a sign of resourcefulness. Right. So we know that, you know, when you're running into that wall, when you're feeling stuck, when you know, there's something you're trying to do. And for some reason, it's just not working. And you feel like you're doing everything right, but you can't figure out what's getting in your way. You know, that's usually when people will call and, you know, they're good people trying to do great things. Sometimes you just need that person who's a little objective standing on the sideline going, Oh, I see what's going on here. Yeah, try this try that. Right. And we're having the conversation about, you know, what's going to work for them?

Susan Tatum 28:45

Well, it sounds like your clients are extremely well cared for, and fortunate to be working with you, Julie. Thank you so much for coming by. If the listeners want to get in touch with you and learn more about your work, what's the best way for them to do that?

Julie Dupont 28:57

Yeah, well, they can start with my website, it has a pretty good rundown of, of what I'm all about, and what I do. So that's and while you're on there, you know, if you want to shoot me an email, you can email me at And I'd be happy to chat and just kind of, you know, sometimes people just want to know, like, you know, you talk you say you do this and you do that, you know, what does that really look like? Because I get it. It can be scary to start working with someone you don't know. And I'm always happy to explain, you know what my processes so that people can make informed decisions.

Susan Tatum 29:39

All right. Well, thank you again. It's been great talking with you and take care and stay warm up there.

Julie Dupont 29:44

Thanks, Susan.


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