“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short-term discomfort for long-term disfunction.” – Peter Bromberg
No one enjoys tough conversations. Not with your spouse or partner, kids, or mother-in-law. And not at work either.
There are lots of reasons difficult conversations are challenging. For starters, most people do not enjoy conflict. Add to that feelings and emotions, different perceptions of reality, assumptions, and the old-as-time blame game that clouds judgment and reason.
And yet, the truth is that hard conversations are necessary and refining. Plus, as a leader, having those one-on-ones with your team members helps them grow, too. Whether it’s about personal issues, performance, conflict, or even company decisions, good team players are looking to their leaders to challenge them and offer development solutions. Furthermore, failing to deal with issues in the workplace can lower morale and ultimately lower overall productivity.
8 Tips for Hard Conversations:
- Don’t Avoid Them
It’s kind of like when your car is making funny noises, and you brush it off until it’s too late — next thing you know, you’re paying a mechanic a boatload of cash you could have saved yourself by dealing with the issue way earlier.
Putting off a difficult conversation and addressing the issue only allows for your anxiety to grow and hampers production and performance.
To help yourself conquer any doubts or anxiety, remember what Steve Jobs said, “It’s not your job to be easy on people. Your job is to make them better.”
- Be Purposeful
Determine the purpose of the conversation and enter it with a clear focus. Know what you need to say and what points need to be addressed. (Write them out if that helps!) Going into the conversation with a plan helps keep things on track.
During your chat, be confident and direct. If you are uncomfortable, an employee will likely pick up on that and become uncomfortable as well. Do not beat around the bush either –it can derail the conversation and muddle your main objective.
- Go with Facts — Not Feelings
Our emotions are a tricky business. They can deceive us very, very quickly. So, separate your feelings from the facts of the issue before you start the conversation. Keep your own emotions in check as the conversation progresses. If you sense things becoming heated, take a moment to restore calm and remain at the height of professionalism.
It is imperative when dealing with performance issues, wrong behaviors, or conflict. Ensure you have an accurate picture of what’s going on and focus on the facts. It can be a bit of a balancing act. Offer tangible evidence and support, but don’t ambush anyone with a backlog of offenses.
- Be Kind
Just be kind. Being calm and factual does not mean you have to be unsympathetic. Try to understand things from their point of view. Read their body language to gauge if they are struggling or understanding what you’re sharing with them. Make sure to ask good questions and encourage them to ask good questions, too.
Let them know the potential you see in them and the situation. Ensure them you have their best interest at heart.
- Aim for Understanding
Here is the thing. Your end goal might not be that you both see exactly eye-to-eye. Your employee might never wholly agree with you, but you do want a sense of understanding to be the result. Acknowledgment is different than agreement — and this goes both ways. As an employer or manager, it is essential that your employees feel heard. Doing your part to listen helps create a culture of honesty among your whole team.
At the end of the day, however, your employee also needs to understand the “why” behind the conversation –even if they don’t agree or like it very much.
- Illustrate Outcomes and Offer Solutions
Tough conversations should wrap up with a clear path forward. These next steps and action items are even more critical when dealing with conflicts between staff, employee disappointment, or mistakes.
If you correct an employee for wrong choices or attitudes, illustrate what you would like to see moving forward. Offer suggestions for improvement. Help in any way you can. Create a path together and help them feel confident of your support and your vision for the future.
- Keep it Confidential
Whether you conduct a private conversation or protocol deems it appropriate to have an HR rep present, keep it confidential. Keep the conversation, the reason for the exchange, and the results between you and the employee. Not only does this save a situation from expanding and then imploding the whole team, but it builds trust between you and your employee.
Tough conversations are hard. We get that. And at Hamilton Connections, we believe in getting to the root of the issue. It’s an essential part of relationships. If you’re looking for the next team member for your team, contact us today!