How To Handle Difficult Conversations At Work

Originally published at lmt-lss.com on November 6, 2015.

Avoiding these conversations will only lead to more complications and misunderstandings.

Image Source: managers

Creating competitive strategies, making quarterly projections, designing a great marketing presentation — all these seem relatively easy when compared to handling people. Handling people is probably a leader’s most difficult responsibility. There’s no rule book when it comes to managing people, and no two employees are the same. Motivating your employees and working with them towards common goals is not as simple as it sounds.

Often, situations arise when you have to talk to your employees about what they’re not doing right, point out mistakes and sort out tension. These difficult conversations need to be dealt with skillfully since you don’t want to come across as judgmental or harsh. Avoiding these conversations will only lead to more complications and misunderstandings. If you need to have that ‘talk’, here are 7 things you can do to deal with a difficult conversation.

1. Conquer your Fears

The fact is that no one really likes conflict and most managers tend to avoid difficult conversations because they aren’t sure how to approach their employees. They fear that the conversations won’t go well and employees will get upset. While this is a valid concern and some employees don’t like to be told that they’re not performing as expected, as a leader, you need to look at the bigger picture. Employees don’t always understand that their behavior affects others and letting them know how it effects the overall work environment might help them change.


2. Do your Homework

When you’re getting into a difficult conversation with an employee, always ensure that you’re prepared. Pulling an employee up solely based on your observations makes it look like you’re judgmental and biased. Gather proof in the form of cold hard facts that can back the points you want to discuss. These facts will also help your employees understand the situation better and grow. As a leader, it’s up to you to provide the tools your employees need to succeed. You should be able to outline expectations and explain how they are missing the mark. Having fact-based evidence leaves less room for interpretation.

Image Source: cfcd

3. Be Positive

Even though the conversation you’re about to have might be difficult, it’s important that you set a positive tone for your meeting. Showing empathy will help you look at situations from the employee’s point of view and take a more balanced approach to the situation. You could start by asking questions about how things are going and if they have any suggestions to improve existing processes. Make your conversation an open dialogue with proven facts and data to support your case. If your employees feel like they’re in trouble, they might think that they’re on the road to a termination and will lose their motivation to work.


4. Leave your Emotions at the Door

There’s no place for emotions in such meetings, so be prepared to keep your own feelings in check. This is very important as difficult conversations can easily become emotionally-charged and things could go out of hand before you realise it. Saying things like “I’m disappointed” or “I feel” only adds biased emotional elements to the conversation, so it’s important to stick to facts and figures. If the emotional levels rise for either party, make it point to pause the meeting and reschedule. It’s essential to navigate these situations carefully, while keeping a check on emotions.

Image Source: nataliegcurrie

5. Find the Right Setting

Finding the right setting can help you set the tone for the meeting. For a general discussion, you could choose to talk over a cup of coffee or lunch. This will lessen the chance of your employee feeling embarrassed. However, if you need to deliver a message, having an off-site meeting may not be the best option. If you want to have a formal counseling or discuss a performance improvement plan, you should select a common meeting spot like a conference room in your office.


6. Be Consistent

Hold all your employees accountable using the same performance expectations. Have the same dialogue with anyone who’s slipping. You don’t want to make it seem like you’re alienating or picking on a particular team or individual. With the right preparation, you should be able to refer back to the facts to explain why you’re having the meeting. This will counter any concerns your employees may have about being singled out.

Image Source: media.uow

7. Keep it Confidential

If employees come to you “confidentially,” make sure they understand that you cannot guarantee 100 percent confidentiality. Depending on what they disclose, you may have a responsibility to take action or speak to others. At the same time, it’s your responsibility that any employees who aren’t involved shouldn’t be aware of the situation. It’s very important that your hold your employees’ trust if you want to be a good leader. It lets your employees know that you’re someone they can approach if they’re faced with a difficult situation and that you’ll resolve it in the best way possible.


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