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5 steps for handling difficult conversations at work

​Having difficult conversations with employees at work is inevitable. Whether it is about performance,workplace conflicts, sharing negative feedback or discussing personal issues - employers need to handle these situations appropriately. Carrying out a hard conversation effectively is hard-but the more you practice the better you become at it. Here are a few tips for handling difficult conversations at work

1. Set the talking point in advance

One-on-one meetings are perfect for carrying out tricky conversations. It is very important to prepare in advance and not to forget: communication is a two way street. Giving the other person advance notice of what you’d like to discuss allows them to prepare too, and establishes clear expectations for you both. Send your team member a quick message to give them a heads-up in a way that’s both clear and neutral in its tone, in which:

Instead of saying: “We need to talk about what happened in the team meeting.” Try saying: “I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the different opinions that came up in last week’s team meeting. Can we chat about it at our next one-on-one?”

If we have regular one-on-one meetings having these kinds of conversations are getting less and less awkward. The co-workers will have more trust in each other and there will be less chance to have an unexpected suprise during the conversations.

2. Focus on facts, not feelings

In order to be fully prepared to have these conversations - you have to dig deeper first and understand your own feelings. Try to separate what you know from what you think or feel. You can do an objectivity exercise to eliminate what might be an assumption or projection. In order to consider what advice you’d give a friend in your position. Collect all the facts and then think about the desired outcome. When you have it,build the conversation up from backwards. Make some notes ahead of time of things you don’t want to miss and bring them with you.

Talking about a difficult topic or having an otherwise challenging conversation can evoke some emotion from even the most regulated among us. When it comes to managing your emotions, it’s important to find a good balance between being composed and being authentic.

3. Create a reliable environment

It’s important to foster a sense of trust and mutual respect with employees, to encourage them to come to you with tougher topics. Having regular feedback exchanges helps people feel comfortable to be honest with you, and maintaining recurring one-on-ones with each team member makes these discussions feel less awkward when they do pop up. Keep asking questions during the conversations, with that step you reassuring the others you care about what they say. One way to break the ice for having more difficult conversations is to state directly that you’re open to them.

4. Aim for understanding above consensus

The ultimate goal when addressing a difficult situation isn’t necessarily seeing eye-to-eye, but rather finding a sense of understanding between two people. Most of the times the problem is misunderstanding, because someone is missing one vital information. Be empathetic and give your team member space to share their perspective before you offer your own. Remember there’s a difference between acknowledgment and agreement; you don’t have to validate an employee’s point of view to make them feel heard. Listening is very important because according to a survey 17% of employees don’t feel that their direct manager cares about their opinion. This feeling makes a huge impact on the relationship between the employers and employees.

There is a strong correlation between whether employees feel their manager cares about their opinion, and whether they feel they’re part of a team. Being open enough that people not only feel comfortable to be honest with you, but believe that you care personally, is key to cultivating a supportive, collaborative team environment.

5. Find a solution together

One or both of you may come to the meeting with action items in mind, but take the time to discuss them, build on them and decide on a path forward together. A successful conversation means finding the most productive solution, not being right or proving a point. Set the talking point ahead to your next meeting. Make sure both of you have followed the established plan and achieved the desired outcome.

Talking about undesireble topics are hard tasks to do, challenging and require lot of exercise. By approaching sensitive subjects with empathy and care, you can make a difficult discussion productive and come to a positive outcome.