Handling difficult conversations in the workplace

Have you been putting off having a difficult conversation at work? Perhaps you need to talk to an employee about their lacking performance or resolve an issue between your team members. Or maybe someone is suddenly being angry or abrupt with you and you need to be able to react quickly and in a professional manner.

To succeed as a leader or manager, it’s important to take ownership of your role as an arbiter and facilitator to handle difficult conversations with respect and maturity. There are some simple steps you can take to help you handle difficult conversations and resolve conflicts.

Be calm and collected

It is important to lead the conversation calmly and steadily. The way in which you hold yourself, the tone of voice you use, and your mannerisms will all contribute greatly to the outcome of your difficult conversation. Being as centred and calm as possible will help keep you on track to a positive result.

Choose the right environment

Having difficult conversations in your office while you sit at your desk can be quite overbearing. A better choice would be to meet in an office meeting room, at the cafeteria or even go outside and make it a walking meeting. The fresh air and change of scenery can help to open people up to new ideas.

Make your intentions clear

Let your employee know ahead of time that you’d like to have a talk about certain topics and ask them what time suits them. This will mean you’ve given some ownership to the employee and it won’t feel as intimidating going in. By locking in a time and place to chat, it also gives you time to prepare and organise. And when the meeting begins, don’t take time for small talk and just try to get straight into it.

Figure out your objective

Before the conversation, you need to know what you want to accomplish, and your desired outcome. You’ll also need to consider that there will be new facts presented during the conversation, but knowing where you stand as much as possible beforehand will help guide you through.

Be curious and show acknowledgement

Start the conversation with a mindset of inquiry. Be open to hearing what the employee has to say, and try to listen to their point of view and story before jumping in with solutions. In doing so, ensure that you are acknowledging the feelings of your employee, warranted or not.

Be consistent

As hard as it may be, you need to remain objective, fair, and consistent when it comes to your management and leadership approach. Especially when it comes to your responses and solutions to problems in the workplace. You don’t want to seem as though you’re favouring one employee over another, or giving any special treatment based on outside relationships.

Encourage input

Make sure the employee is part of the analysis of the situation and in providing solutions. You want to give them some ownership of this and let them feel part of the process.

You might also like to write up a plan of action and book in a time to meet again to follow up and discuss any progress. Ensure that the employee is comfortable enough with the outcome and that they know to approach you with any questions or concerns.

Remember, when difficult conversations are handled promptly, and desired outcomes are achieved, it can mean a huge improvement in your employee happiness and engagement levels, leading to an efficient and productive workplace.

David Leahy, Director, Directions Unlimited

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