Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. Be considerate; be compassionate. Both of these feedback techniques will mask the point of the conversation and lessen its impact. You’ll also want to talk about the outcome you’d like to see. “We’re a small company and all really close—you know about people’s families and you hear about their vacations. If you aren't sure that the other person fully comprehended the conversation, ask clarifying questions to check their understanding. If you see they’re really struggling with what you’ve said, pause for a minute while they collect themselves. If you get emotional, so will the other person. “Be constructive,” says Manzoni. By their final conversation, the employee had decided to leave the company. Illustrating what a positive outcome looks like gives the employee something solid to work towards, and helps them understand why they’re being disciplined. Don’t say things like, ‘I feel so bad about saying this,’ or ‘This is really hard for me to do,’” she says. When it comes to difficult conversations with employees at work – whether it’s about underwhelming performance or addressing low motivation – the burden largely falls on managers. The Most Difficult Conversations You Have Ever Had At Work Readers share stories of weird, scary, and embarrassing office conversations. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. All rights reserved. “Don’t play the victim.”, Slow down and listen To keep tensions from blazing, Manzoni recommends trying to “slow the pace” of the conversation. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible? By choosing the calm, centered state, you’ll help your opponent/partner to be more centered, too. Be compassionate “Experience tells us that these kinds of conversations often lead to [strained] working relationships, which can be painful,” says Manzoni. “You need to have the right energy going into something like this. Michelle Stowe is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received. You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. Take a beat and alter your mindset. It is very human to attempt to avoid a conversation that … Part of active listening working well in difficult conversations is avoiding planning too much. … Many people that have a difficult conversation don’t provide the clarity of what they want or what they would like to change, leaving it up to the person receiving the information to work it out for themselves. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. The actual words you use during the conversation matter. Most of the time, the person you're talking to knows that a critique is coming, so rather than dancing around the subject, just get to it. The survey also found that the four most difficult conversations were all work-based scenarios (see below); personal topics such as sex and money come further down the list. They had a great talk and even ended the conversation with a hug. You must outline the critique and the reason you’re having the conversation, but don’t stop there. Handling Difficult Conversations Guidance, Tips and Best Practices. “It might not necessarily be pleasant, but you can manage to deliver difficult news in a courageous, honest, fair way.” At the same time, “do not emote,” says Weeks. Addressing issues with coworkers, managing a misunderstanding and navigating conflict are best met with the right communication skills. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. Apply the difficult conversation formula. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. Not every difficult conversation is going to be “confrontational” … Difficult conversations become necessary for a variety of reasons. This is especially important when the conversation is with an employee who you care greatly for or work closely with. Acknowledge your counterpart’s perspective Don’t go into a difficult conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Focus On Creating Value. Increasingly, Worklogic Consulting is being asked by clients to provide coaching for managers and training for teams in the fine art of having difficult conversations. That means active listening on both sides and taking notes for questions later, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next. Next time you have to have a difficult conversation, keep these points in mind to ensure that it's productive and well received. “Saying, ‘I hear you,’ as you’re fiddling with your smartphone is insulting.”, Give something back If you’re embarking on a conversation that will “put the other person in a difficult spot or take something away something from them,” ask yourself: “Is there something I can give back?” says Weeks. As mentioned in the previous point, difficult conversations at work can mean emotions are running high. How To Innovate And Keep Up With The Quick-Changing Landscape Of Luxury Retail, This Expat Turned Real Estate Guru Shares Her Top 3 Tips For Buying Abroad In The Current Economy, From Consulting To StartUp: How This Beauty Founder Used Transferable Skills To Launch A Second Career. At the same time, everybody plays a position on the team and one weak link can bring it down.”, To steel herself for the conversation, Tabatha called on her 20 years of experience as an officer in the army. What Does Purpose-Driven Leadership Really Mean? Tabatha says that while the employee “wasn’t happy” he took the lay-off “like a trooper.”, Even though she didn’t show her emotion during the meeting, Tabatha still says the conversation “lingers” in her mind today. Difficult conversations — whether you’re telling a client the project is delayed or presiding over an unenthusiastic performance review — are an inevitable part of management. “He knew that I cared,” she says. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. Take regular breaks during the day; the more calm and centered you are, the better you are at handling tough conversations when they arise, Slow down the pace of the conversation — it helps you find the right words and it signals to your counterpart that you’re listening, Find ways to be constructive by suggesting other solutions or alternatives, Label the news you need to deliver as a “difficult conversation” in your mind; instead frame the discussion in a positive or neutral light, Bother writing a script for how you want the discussion to go; jot down notes if it helps, but be open and flexible, Ignore the other person’s point of view — ask your counterpart how he sees the problem and then look for overlaps between your perspectives. If you’re coming from a place of frustration—which can happen, we’re only human — it will not be a constructive conversation. A difficult conversation is one whose primary subject matter is potentially contentious and/or sensitive and may elicit strong, complex emotions that can be hard to predict or control. If you’re telling an employee that they aren’t getting a raise, explain why and let them know what they need to work on to make that raise a possibility. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself —get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll around the office — and collect your thoughts. “He was a nice person and he worked long hours but his productivity was an issue,” she says. “Think about why you had certain reactions, and what you might have said differently.” Weeks also recommends observing how others successfully cope with these situations and emulating their tactics. While your delivery of the message should be stoic, this doesn’t mean you shouldn't empathize. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organizational development at INSEAD. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. Your managers should be able to be pragmatic and ensure any conversations with an individual employee remains focused and productive. Once you hear it, look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. “We kept kicking the can down the road, but I realized I was going to have to be the bad guy.” She was going to have to lay him off. Think of how the other person will feel during the conversation, and allow them to process their emotions. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a … But it’s not always easy to have difficult conversations. You want to think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react. An employee's guide to difficult conversations in the workplace (48KB) (262KB) Start the course now Before you start, we recommend logging in or registering as you can: save or print a completion certificate at the end of the course If they're really taking the news poorly, remind them that you’re delivering this critique to make them better, and you want to see them succeed. After he spoke, she offered her own perspective on the problem. It can help if you simply look at things from a fact based standpoint, and focus solely on that. And, what does the other person think is the problem?” If you aren’t sure of the other person’s viewpoint, “acknowledge that you don’t know and ask,” she says. You have to think: ‘What’s the best way for this person to hear the message?’”, Her first step was sitting down with the employee to ask how he thought things were going. Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you're having the conversation. Difficult conversations at work At times, we are all faced with conversations that are difficult, but important. The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. You may opt-out by. Offer a solution. When having a difficult conversation, be direct and get to the point quickly. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact. [Tilt view silhouette: iofoto via Shutterstock ] The ability to tackle tough issues with tact and respect is an important skill for any professional. interactive scenarios to help you practice your conversation skills; downloadable resources and links to further information. An employee is consistently late. She and her team tried a number of interventions — including having him work with a professional coach — but after six months, she needed to take action. Conflict is scary, but uncomfortable conversations can get us to a resolution (if you listen carefully to what is really being said). “I wanted to know what frustrations he was having,” she says. Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional. She told the employee that he was “not a good fit.” She explained that the company would keep him on until the end of the month and then provided details about the severance package. He was initially defensive, but by the second time they spoke, he had come around and agreed there was a problem. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you capacity to absorb any blows” that come your way. If an employee is consistently late, the first thing you should strive … “I really liked this person,” she says. When approaching conversations about racial bias, gender and social issues, it can be challenging to know what to say, and when and how to say it. It’s wise, therefore, to come at sensitive topics from a place of empathy. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Michigan Economic Development Corporation With Forbes Insights, Want To Realize Your Full Potential? Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. How can you use difficult conversations with clients as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship? How do you find the right words in the moment? This can make you loyal to a pre-determined agenda, rather than what the other person is saying and the organic, co-created development of the conversation. Breathe “The more calm and centered you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. This is the part of the difficult conversation where you discuss what it is you would like to change in the future. These can take place in our personal lives with our families and friends and also in the workplace with our colleagues. It can also feel uncomfortable and risky to confront these kinds of issues in conversation at work where we are used to maintaining some level of reservedness associated with professionalism. Plan but don’t script It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. “I grew up in a military environment where there’s no bluff,” she says. Do Share Your Feelings. No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy. Spend a little time to reflect on your attitude toward the situation and the … This is not the time for feedback sandwiches or an excess of compliments. Clearly explain why you're having the conversation to help them fully understand where you’re coming from. You’ll want to … “When you’re at work, you’re at work. Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional development. In life, work, and our career, we run into challenges with people which we often choose not to address because we don’t like conflict. If you’re disciplining an employee for poor team performance, explain that to them and also talk about what it would look like when team relations are strong. “I wanted him to look in the mirror, not poke him in the eye.”. From delivering performance reviews to saying no to extra projects, difficult conversations are a regular part of work life. 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