Many people have an inner voice that tells us when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone, but sometimes fear drowns that inner voice. Handling the difficult conversation requires skill and empathy, but most of all, it requires courage. The more you practice facing these issues head on, the more adept you can become.
Managing difficult conversations at work can be a challenge. Here are some tips to navigate sensitive conversations with success, allowing you to get to the bottom of important issues.
Tips for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work
1. Be clear about the issue.
To prepare for the conversation, ask yourself two important questions: "What exactly is the behavior causing the problem?" and "What impact is the behavior having on you, the team, and the company?" Clearly state this first so you can articulate it aloud in a few succinct sentences.
2. Define your objective.
What do you want to accomplish? End the conversation with clearly expressed action items. What is the person agreeing to do? What support are you committed to providing? What do you both agree to do to overcome potential obstacles? Schedule a follow up to evaluate progress and reassess what needs to happen next.
3. Be open-minded.
Reflect on your attitude toward the situation and the person involved. What are your preconceived notions? It pays to approach the conversation inquisitively. A good doctor analyzes a situation before reaching for a prescription pad, right? This also applies to a leader. Be open to hear what the other person has to say. A good leader seeks a greater truth in any situation.
A leader with high emotional intelligence is mindful to limit any collateral damage to a relationship. It takes years to build bridges with people and only minutes to blow them up.
4. Manage emotions.
It's a leader's responsibility to understand and manage emotions. What starts as an annoyance, for example, can move to anger and potentially escalate to rage. During a difficult discussion, always show respect toward the person, even if you totally disagree with them. In some cases, you may have to respond to a person's tears. Offer the person a tissue and a chance to pause and breathe before moving forward.
5. Embrace the silence.
There may be silent moments in the conversation. Don't rush to fill them with words. Just as a pause between musical notes can help us appreciate a song, some silence in the conversation allows us to truly hear what was said and let it sink in. A pause also has a calming effect and can help us connect better.
6. Preserve the relationship.
A leader with high emotional intelligence is mindful to limit any collateral damage to a relationship. It takes years to build bridges with people and only minutes to blow them up. Think about how the conversation can fix the situation without creating an irreparable wall between you and the person.
7. Be consistent.
Treat everyone fairly and equally. For example, if an employee thinks you have one set of rules for them and a different set for another, they might think you're showing favoritism. Employees will likely remember how you handled situations in the past. Being consistent serves you and your employees better in the long run.
8. Develop conflict resolution skills.
Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. Managing conflict effectively is one of the vital skills of leadership. Have a few, proven phrases that can come in handy in tough situations.
9. Keep moving forward.
In difficult situations, people might use ploys like stonewalling and sarcasm. Disarm the ploy by naming it, and always aim to keep the conversation moving forward.
10. Choose the right place for the conversation.
Calling employees into your office may not be the best strategy as it may make them immediately uncomfortable and nervous. Consider holding the meeting in a neutral place like a meeting room or coffee shop where you can sit adjacent to each other.
11. Know how to start.
Some people put off having the conversation because they don't know how to start. Being direct and setting up a meeting is the authentic and respectful approach. You don't want to ambush people by surprising them with a "chat" out of the blue.
12. Be mindful of tone and body language.
Make sure your tone of voice signals you're open to discussion and exploration. Simple body language, like leaning forward rather than lounging back on your chair, can subtly show you have positive intentions and truly care about listening and connecting.
Confronting difficult conversations head on is respectful to both you and your employees. Tackling a tough situation will be better if you communicate thoughtfully and respectfully. After all, supporting colleagues and preserving relationships is an important part of growing businesses.
A version of this article was originally published on March 25, 2013.
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