The reality is that difficult conversations are inevitable in the workplace, and it is important that they are conducted well. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. When approaching conversations about racial bias, gender and social issues, it can be challenging to know what to say, and when and how to say it. If an employee is consistently late, the first thing you should strive … “I wanted to know what frustrations he was having,” she says. “We’re a small company and all really close—you know about people’s families and you hear about their vacations. Conflict is scary, but uncomfortable conversations can get us to a resolution (if you listen carefully to what is really being said). Tabatha says that while the employee “wasn’t happy” he took the lay-off “like a trooper.”, Even though she didn’t show her emotion during the meeting, Tabatha still says the conversation “lingers” in her mind today. Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. “Handling a difficult conversation well is not just a skill, it is an act of courage.”, Case Study #1: Be clear, direct, and unemotional Tabatha Turman, the founder and CEO of Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions, a financial firm with both government and private sector clients, knew she had a problem with a certain employee. Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you're having the conversation. © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. “Don’t play the victim.”, Slow down and listen To keep tensions from blazing, Manzoni recommends trying to “slow the pace” of the conversation. How to handle difficult conversations at work Effective communication is the key to a happy and successful team. What the Experts Say “We’ve all had bad experiences with these kind of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. [Tilt view silhouette: iofoto via Shutterstock ] When having a difficult conversation, be direct and get to the point quickly. How can you use difficult conversations with clients as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship? Difficult conversations — whether you’re telling a client the project is delayed or presiding over an unenthusiastic performance review — are an inevitable part of management. “He knew that I cared,” she says. “When you’re at work, you’re at work. Many people that have a difficult conversation don’t provide the clarity of what they want or what they would like to change, leaving it up to the person receiving the information to work it out for themselves. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organizational development at INSEAD. “Express your interest in understanding how the other person feels,” and “take time to process the other person’s words and tone,” he adds. Apply the difficult conversation formula. “Be constructive,” says Manzoni. If you see they’re really struggling with what you’ve said, pause for a minute while they collect themselves. Your managers should be able to be pragmatic and ensure any conversations with an individual employee remains focused and productive. I write about leadership trends in the evolving workplace. These can take place in our personal lives with our families and friends and also in the workplace with our colleagues. And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible? Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional development. The ability to tackle tough issues with tact and respect is an important skill for any professional. You may opt-out by. “It was a process.”, Before even broaching the subject with the employee, she reminded herself of her good intentions. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you capacity to absorb any blows” that come your way. Most of the time, the person you're talking to knows that a critique is coming, so rather than dancing around the subject, just get to it. You want to have the conversation in an even tone and keep it professional. Asking questions helps the other person process what’s happened, and it allows you to clarify and solidify details of the conversation. Seventy percent of employees avoid difficult conversations in the workplace, according to a study by career-coaching startup Bravely, this can lower morale and cause a toxic work environment. “I still feel badly that it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t right,” she says. Increasingly, Worklogic Consulting is being asked by clients to provide coaching for managers and training for teams in the fine art of having difficult conversations. Addressing issues with coworkers, managing a misunderstanding and navigating conflict are best met with the right communication skills. Plan but don’t script It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. If you’re disciplining an employee for poor team performance, explain that to them and also talk about what it would look like when team relations are strong. Questions serve a double purpose. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. If you’re telling an employee that they aren’t getting a raise, explain why and let them know what they need to work on to make that raise a possibility. “Learn how to disarm yourself by imitating what you see,” she says. Sometimes these occur because expectations were not met. As a result, we tend to avoid them. Few people like confrontation. While it might seem like you’re being too harsh diving right into the critique, you’re actually doing the other person a favor. Handling Difficult Conversations Guidance, Tips and Best Practices. They're never easy to conduct and you risk causing workplace disharmony when you broach the subject with an employee. Difficult conversations become necessary for a variety of reasons. All rights reserved. Tabatha dreaded delivering the news. “I really liked this person,” she says. It just wasn’t going to work anymore.”, Betty decided that the message would be best delivered not in one conversation, but in a series of multiple discussions over a couple of months. But we’re not asking managers to just have those conversations. Case Study #2: Put yourself in the right frame of mind and show empathy As Chief Personnel Officer at Booz Allen Hamilton, Betty Thompson, is accustomed to having hard conversations. Part of active listening working well in difficult conversations is avoiding planning too much. Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job. You need to be strong for the people around you and take your feelings out of it.”, Her words were simple. Make sure your actions reinforce your words, adds Weeks. He was initially defensive, but by the second time they spoke, he had come around and agreed there was a problem. This is not the time for feedback sandwiches or an excess of compliments. Having difficult conversations is hard to do successfully under the best of circumstances. How do you find the right words in the moment? They had a great talk and even ended the conversation with a hug. “I wanted him to look in the mirror, not poke him in the eye.”. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. It is very human to attempt to avoid a conversation that … Take regular breaks during the day; the more calm and centered you are, the better you are at handling tough conversations when they arise, Slow down the pace of the conversation — it helps you find the right words and it signals to your counterpart that you’re listening, Find ways to be constructive by suggesting other solutions or alternatives, Label the news you need to deliver as a “difficult conversation” in your mind; instead frame the discussion in a positive or neutral light, Bother writing a script for how you want the discussion to go; jot down notes if it helps, but be open and flexible, Ignore the other person’s point of view — ask your counterpart how he sees the problem and then look for overlaps between your perspectives. Do Share Your Feelings. It can help if you simply look at things from a fact based standpoint, and focus solely on that. 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