As your business grows, so does your team. I have watched my team grow from only myself to dozens of employees. With that comes both personal and professional issues that you often can’t entirely control. Even with a competent human resources department, as a leader, you’ll face these issues head-on. Sometimes they are simple, such as remembering to turn off the lights, often they are interpersonal issues that require a bit more finesse. The key as a leader is to determine the best course of action not just for the business, but for the team members involved.

Whether it be employee conflicts or having to speak to a team member about their performance, difficult conversations are generally awkward but necessary. Most concerns in the workplace are valid from at least one point of view, and that point of view might not be yours. As a leader, it is your job to not only prepare for these conversations by not only learning about whatever is being discussed but determining the value purpose of the conversation as a whole. What are the possible outcomes? What needs to be achieved? Who or what will this effect? Considering these variables before and during difficult conversations will benefit all parties.

Your communication skills as a leader will be tested here. While difficult conversations can be challenging for all involved, the choices and decisions that arise from them give everyone an opportunity to grow within the organization and on a personal level. Relationships might seem strained to go in, but with the right level of conflict resolution, will be stronger on the way out. One of the best ways you can prepare for difficult conversations, whether a moment before or a day before, is by being accepting and ready to listen.

Listening isn’t just hearing what is being said. It’s reading the tone of voice, body language and other visual and audio cues that indicate the true intentions of a person. Sometimes people need a bit of positive encouragement and support in order to speak their truth. Being a leader, it is imperative that you are ready to take in the whole picture. There is always more to a story than what is simply being said. Listening is just the first step.

Aside from active listening, you need to be prepared to ask questions. The right questions lead to a better understanding of the situation at all angles. Some questions might provoke a defensive response and should be avoided. Finding the right questions to ask means continuously listening and drawing out meaningful responses from the questions you do ask. Going in, it’s best to be open-minded and ready to face negative criticism as much as positive.

Listening and asking the right questions amount to very little without a fair amount of empathy. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the parties involved and avoid talking about just yourself but be prepared to use past experience as a guide for handling the current situation. Even if you are the source of the conversation, be open-minded and accepting of the feelings and concerns of your team. There is usually a solution that leaves all parties satisfied if you are empathetic to the problems of others.

In the end, the understanding that your team has valid concerns and has a right to perhaps be angry, frustrated or upset either towards you or other areas of the business is important to company growth. Leaders must be ready to face all concerns and have difficult conversations. These conversations lead to better interpersonal relationships and foster an environment of mutual respect, openness, and growth.