Difficult Conversations? … get on with it!

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Most Managers and Business owners have to have difficult conversations at some point in their career as a people manager, whether it’s telling an employee they aren’t getting a pay increase or a promotion, disciplining poor performance, telling a team member they need to amend their personal hygiene regime or even firing someone. Having difficult conversations isn’t easy, but there are ways to make those conversations both productive and as painless as possible.

Be direct.

When having a difficult conversation, be direct and get to the point quickly. This is not the time for hesitation, feedback sandwiches, mixing good and bad messages, or an excess of compliments. Both of these feedback techniques will mask the point of the conversation and lessen its impact. Don’t confuse matters by prevaricating.   While it might seem like you’re being too harsh diving right into the reason you have convened the meeting, you’re actually being kinder than dragging the meeting out. Most of the time, the person you’re talking to knows that there is a problem, especially if you pre-arrange a meeting when you don’t normally behave in this way. Just get on with it!

Be specific.

Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you’re having the conversation. Offer as many examples as possible, do your homework prior to the meeting and have evidence that supports your opinion, so the person understands you’re not just pulling things out of thin air. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received.

Planning is essential.

This is not a conversation you want to have at the coffee machine or in the heat of the moment. You want to think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react. Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to stay calm. Make notes before the meeting – bullet point the main issues, and refer to them.

Book a room  – out of earshot and preferably out of sight

Book somewhere that you can talk out of the earshot of other people in the office. Depending on the subject of the conversation, the person receiving the message may need to compose themselves. For example, a redundancy announcement can be a shock and the person may need to collect their thoughts before going back to their desk. Allow them their dignity, be respectful and maintain confidentiality at all times.  Don’t allow others to overhear you, the conversation topic may be embarrassing for the individual.

Mind your language.

Be authoritative and in control of the conversation, but be fair. Don’t raise your voice, or be sarcastic, you may be a bit nervous, but you are the instigator of the conversation and must remain professional. Be clear on the reason you are having the conversation, and the outcome you want to see. If it is a redundancy situation, outline that no decisions have been made and that you are starting a period of consultation.  

Offer and discuss a resolution or solution – if you can?

Nothing is worse than delivering criticism or something that the employee may not want to hear and leaving it just at that. You’ll want to clearly explain the reason for the conversation, the specific critique, and then offer suggestions to improve. If you’re telling an employee that they aren’t getting a pay increase, explain the reasons why and let them know what they need to work on to make the pay increase a possibility in the future. Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job. It is not the content of the information you impart; it is very often the way you do it!

Manage your emotions and tone of voice

Keep the tone of the meeting professional. Don’t let your emotions dictate your delivery. If you get sound aggressive or upset, so will the other person. This is especially important when the conversation is with an employee who is part of your team. In this situation, try and remove the emotion from the situation. Focus on the facts. If emotions start to take over, perhaps take a break to remind yourself that the more in control you are of your emotions, the better you’ll be able to deliver the message.

Put yourself in their shoes

While your delivery of the message should be stoic, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t empathise with the other person. Think of how the other person will feel during the conversation, and allow them to process their emotions. If you see they’re really struggling with what you’ve said, pause for a minute while they collect themselves. Clearly explain why you’re having the conversation to help them fully understand where you’re coming from. If they’re really taking the news badly, remind them that you’re delivering the message to resolve an issue, or to make them more successful in the workplace and want to see them succeed.

Ask questions and encourage the other person to do the same

Questioning helps you to clarify the situation and to check that the person receiving the message has understood the message.

Next time you have to have a difficult conversation, keep these points in mind to ensure that it’s productive and well received.

If you really can’t face having these discussions yourself, or want some advice, or for us to devise a script for you, then give us a call. 0118 324 2526

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