Most business leaders, regardless of their experience, avoid difficult conversations with staff. Although this may seem like the easy option, it can often cause lasting damage to a business. This is why it is vitally important that managers learn effective ways to handle tough conversations in the workplace.
Managers who can learn to deal with difficult conversations in the right way often discover that it is one of the most cost-effective and rewarding ways to boost the success of their business.
Here’s our six-point guide to handling difficult conversations:
1. Don’t leave the situation to fester
Difficult messages left unsaid won’t get any easier to deal with. In fact, you’ll only waste time and energy worrying about how you will handle the conversation. In many cases, staff may also become anxious if a difficult topic is not addressed. So be proactive – plan what you want to say and make a date to meet with your staff.
2. Build bridges
Difficult conversations, by their very nature, can easily lead to conflict if they are not handled carefully and sensitively. Going full steam ahead, focusing on the areas of difference, will only make the conflict seem bigger still. Instead, build bridges first by emphasising what you agree on and the positive aspects of your working relationship.
3. Talk is easy
It’s worth reminding yourself that it’s not the conversation itself that’s difficult – it’s your own fears and discomfort about it that are making it difficult. Keep in mind that people-focused, honest and authentic conversations between managers and staff reap numerous benefits for a business. Creating higher levels of trust and openness in a company by addressing difficult situations is more likely to lead to an “in this together” team spirit.
4. Let them speak
All conversations, however difficult or challenging, should be two-way. The problem is that pent-up emotions and fear about how the other person will respond mean that we tend to talk too much ourselves. Many managers are also prone to going on too much about their own perspective first, which irritates or confuses others. Early in the conversation, ask the other person a question to get them involved and talking.
5. Have a clear head
Ask yourself what is making the conversation difficult. Is it the topic, the person or the situation? And specifically what is it about the topic/person/situation that is difficult? Being clear about this will enable you to plan how to handle that specific element, rather than worrying about every aspect of the conversation.
6. Listen and learn
It’s important when having a difficult conversation in the workplace to listen, maintain an open mind and learn. It’s so often the case that the harder we perceive the conversation to be, the more closed-minded and focused on our own goals we become. In turn, this fuels the other person’s fire! Open-minded conversations – with a good injection of honesty and focus – are the best way to achieve a positive outcome.
Following these simple tips will ensure you handle tough conversations more skilfully and this will reduce the stress both for yourself and others. You will get greater commitment to action, and everyone involved will share a clear way forward.
Many of our clients have found that learning how to better handle difficult conversations in the workplace is one of the most cost-effective and successful actions they can take to improve business performance.