“It’s having the crucial conversations at crucial times that makes a leader truly worth following”; this book promises to change how managers deal with tough situations through processes, actions and methods which the authors assure us are proven in practice.

Based on Darren Hill’s Dealing with the Tough Stuff workshops, the book draws on his and co-authors Alison Hill and Dr Sean Richardson’s experience as psychologists and behavioural scientists workshop facilitators and coaches. It challenges readers to identify their difficult conversations and provides practical ways of developing skills to more effectively handle these. It doesn’t shy away from tackling stressful, high emotion situations.

The content is generally mainstream (reflected in the western, male quotations which introduce each chapter) with basic models of human behavior (Kübler-Ross and Maslow both get a mention). It also touches on current ideas including flow, strengths based leadership, the importance of transparency and transitions but it does contain useful insights and points of difference. Indeed, the links to on-line resources (including video to demonstrate key points on body language) and the Australian authors’ local consulting and training expertise are two of the books strengths. Although many examples are USA based, there are some references to Australian business and indigenous cultures and gender differences.

The authors make big claims: “we can assure you that the strategies and approaches we present in this book work” and provide a “100% guarantee” modified by their foundational principle that readers believe that all people are good and given the opportunity, most people do the right thing. This expansive statement is somewhat contradicted by a (useful) chapter on handling emotional manipulation at work which includes the statistic that 1 in every 100 workers exhibit psychopathic behaviour. The book is most useful when it moves away from overstatement which plays well in training but can look simplistic in print.

Clearly and consistently structured with content summaries included in both paragraph and dot point formats and an accessible style, the key points are easily found. Each chapter includes insights from each of the authors; an attempt to give the text a personalized, workshop flavor. While not fundamentally different to other workshops and guides which focus on the importance of effective conversations to manage challenging situations, Dealing with the Tough Stuff consolidates ideas usefully in book format with supporting web information to reach a broader audience than workshops alone.

first published in HR Monthly, November 2012