The workplace presents many situations that require us to have ‘difficult’ conversations. The topics or people involved may not be easy to discuss or approach. Difficult conversations may arise because of:
- conflicting viewpoints
- performance issues
- behaviour in the workplace
- complaints or grievances
- tough business decisions
- having to give bad news eg. ending employment or advising unsuccessful job applicants
The difficulty of these conversations can then be exacerbated because of who the person is, in terms of their level of seniority, or how they typically do or could potentially react.
All of this can lead many managers to procrastinate about having the conversation. We often make excuses such as:
- “It’s not that big of a deal”
- “Now’s not the time”
- ‘‘What’s the point, things won’t change”
- “I’ll get to it – it’s on my ‘to do’ list”
- “I’m sure the problem will eventually go away by itself”.
It is essential for managers to have the skills, knowledge and confidence to identify and manage problems at work early on, before they escalate. Honest conversations are critical for managers. If handled well, these conversations provide an opportunity to:
- resolve workplace conflicts quickly and efficiently
- lift employee performance and engagement
- improve relationships within the team.
When should I have a ‘difficult‘ conversation?
When a problem arises ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to any of them is yes, a difficult conversation is necessary:
- Is the issue affecting productivity or efficiency?
- Is the issue affecting other team members or staff morale?
- Will the problem stay the same or get worse if I don’t address it?
- If I don’t deal with it, will it reflect badly on me or my team?
Additional working practices that can assist, and reduce the need for ‘difficult’ conversations are:
- having regular one-on-one meetings that allow a private setting to raise issues early, before they escalate.
- being approachable and showing a willingness to listen. This means staff are more likely to come to you with problems before they escalate.
- giving people a ‘heads up’ about upcoming changes and decisions so they can start to be more prepared
- being clear about expectations regarding performance and behaviour from the outset.
If you need help with the skills needed or process to follow to have a difficult conversation, check out our training courses or contact firstname.lastname@example.org