Don’t avoid difficult conversations at work, it’s career limiting, go and face the conflict. Asking questions helps the other person process what’s happened, and it allows you to clarify and solidify details of the conversation. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds. The ability to tackle tough issues with tact and respect is an important skill for any professional. Focus On Creating Value. Before you broach the topic, Weeks recommends asking yourself two questions: “What is the problem? Don’t let your emotions dictate your delivery. Don’t say things like, ‘I feel so bad about saying this,’ or ‘This is really hard for me to do,’” she says. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. “If you listen to what the other person is saying, you’re more likely to address the right issues and the conversation always ends up being better,” he says. 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. As a result, we tend to avoid them. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? But that’s not the right answer. And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible? Handling Difficult Conversations Guidance, Tips and Best Practices. © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. How to handle difficult conversations at work Effective communication is the key to a happy and successful team. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. Do Share Your Feelings. That means active listening on both sides and taking notes for questions later, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next. By their final conversation, the employee had decided to leave the company. “He was a nice person and he worked long hours but his productivity was an issue,” she says. 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. 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. All leaders have difficult conversations at some point in time, whether it’s telling an employee they aren’t getting a raise or a promotion, disciplining poor performance, or even firing someone. The reality is that difficult conversations are inevitable in the workplace, and it is important that they are conducted well. Apply the difficult conversation formula. Change your mindset If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labeled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. A difficult or challenging conversation is a conversation where you have to manage emotions and information in a sensitive way in order to: address poor performance or conduct deal with personal problems investigate complaints/deal with grievances 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. 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. “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. Conflict is scary, but uncomfortable conversations can get us to a resolution (if you listen carefully to what is really being said). If you get emotional, so will the other person. Show your counterpart “that you care,” says Manzoni. Seventy percent of employees avoid difficult conversations in the workplace, according to a study by career-coaching startup Bravely, this can lower morale and cause a toxic work environment. Once you hear it, look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s. 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. It can help if you simply look at things from a fact based standpoint, and focus solely on that. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a … 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. “I wanted to know what frustrations he was having,” she says. Not every difficult conversation is going to be “confrontational” … He was initially defensive, but by the second time they spoke, he had come around and agreed there was a problem. interactive scenarios to help you practice your conversation skills; downloadable resources and links to further information. Breathe, center, and continue to notice when you become off center–and choose to return again. From delivering performance reviews to saying no to extra projects, difficult conversations are a regular part of work life. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. [Tilt view silhouette: iofoto via Shutterstock ] 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 grew up in a military environment where there’s no bluff,” she says. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. 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. You want to think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react. Confrontation suggests meeting someone face-to-face with hostile intent. What Does Purpose-Driven Leadership Really Mean? Sometimes these occur because expectations were not met. 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. The worst thing you can do “is to ask your counterpart to have sympathy for you,” she says. It’s wise, therefore, to come at sensitive topics from a place of empathy. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to stay even tempered and not get flustered, and therefore deliver a more solid critique. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact. “We’re a small company and all really close—you know about people’s families and you hear about their vacations. An employee is consistently late. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. Difficult conversations are mostly listening and reflecting, or at least they should. “I wanted him to look in the mirror, not poke him in the eye.”. If you manage people, work in Human Resources, or care about your friends at work, chances are good that one day you will need to hold a difficult conversation. After he spoke, she offered her own perspective on the problem. “Don’t play the victim.”, Slow down and listen To keep tensions from blazing, Manzoni recommends trying to “slow the pace” of the conversation. 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. 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. The actual words you use during the conversation matter. “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. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. If, for instance, you’re laying off someone you’ve worked with for a long time, “You could say, ‘I have written what I think is a strong recommendation for you; would you like to see it?’” If you need to tell your boss that you can’t take on a particular assignment, suggest a viable alternative. Think of how the other person will feel during the conversation, and allow them to process their emotions. This is especially important when the conversation is with an employee who you care greatly for or work closely with. They're never easy to conduct and you risk causing workplace disharmony when you broach the subject with an employee. 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. “Handling a difficult conversation well is not just a skill, it is an act of courage.”, Case Study #1: Be clear, direct, and unemotional Tabatha Turman, the founder and CEO of Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions, a financial firm with both government and private sector clients, knew she had a problem with a certain employee. Your managers should be able to be pragmatic and ensure any conversations with an individual employee remains focused and productive. If you’re coming from a place of frustration—which can happen, we’re only human — it will not be a constructive conversation. … 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. It is very human to attempt to avoid a conversation that … How can you use difficult conversations with clients as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship? “I really liked this person,” she says. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organizational development at INSEAD. The Most Difficult Conversations You Have Ever Had At Work Readers share stories of weird, scary, and embarrassing office conversations. Breathe “The more calm and centered you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. 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. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received. It just wasn’t going to work anymore.”, Betty decided that the message would be best delivered not in one conversation, but in a series of multiple discussions over a couple of months. How do you find the right words in the moment? We have provided some general principles around effective communication and have looked specifically at how you might use cues to provide more focus to your conversations. They had a great talk and even ended the conversation with a hug. “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. Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job. Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. “Learn how to disarm yourself by imitating what you see,” she says. Illustrating what a positive outcome looks like gives the employee something solid to work towards, and helps them understand why they’re being disciplined. But we’re not asking managers to just have those conversations. Do Put Together a Conversational Strategy. Nobody wants problems.” Proposing options “helps the other person see a way out, and it also signals respect.”, Reflect and learn After a difficult conversation, it’s worthwhile to “reflect ex post” and consider what went well and what didn’t, says Manzoni. 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. All rights reserved. “It was a process.”, Before even broaching the subject with the employee, she reminded herself of her good intentions. Perhaps your boss lashed out at you during a heated discussion; or your direct report started to cry during a performance review; maybe your client hung up the phone on you. Be considerate; be compassionate. Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional. Questions serve a double purpose. This is where your power lies. Difficult conversations become necessary for a variety of reasons. Few people like confrontation. Case Study #2: Put yourself in the right frame of mind and show empathy As Chief Personnel Officer at Booz Allen Hamilton, Betty Thompson, is accustomed to having hard conversations. 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. 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. “Over time, his role had become less relevant to the organization,” she says. By choosing the calm, centered state, you’ll help your opponent/partner to be more centered, too. Take a beat and alter your mindset. This technique also works well in the moment. Difficult conversations at work At times, we are all faced with conversations that are difficult, but important. “You need to have the right energy going into something like this. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. We tend indeed to … 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. “I didn’t want to rush things,” she says. You’ll also want to talk about the outcome you’d like to see. Clearly explain why you're having the conversation to help them fully understand where you’re coming from. This is the part of the difficult conversation where you discuss what it is you would like to change in the future. Many difficult conversations with clients occur because the company that you work for can’t or won’t fulfill something the client wants or needs. Offer a solution. This is not the time for feedback sandwiches or an excess of compliments. I write about leadership trends in the evolving workplace. But it’s not always easy to have difficult conversations. What the Experts Say “We’ve all had bad experiences with these kind of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. In this situation, take a step back and remove the relationship from the equation. Having difficult conversations may never be easy, but there are ways to make those conversations both productive and as painless as possible. 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. When emotions start to take over, remind yourself that the more in control you are of your emotions, the better you'll be able to deliver the message. The most difficult conversations are the ones that go beyond fact-based discussions and touch on topics that are more sensitive or personal in nature (lack of advancement, letting people go, or behaviour issues) and the ones that have been avoided and left to fester over a long period of time. You must outline the critique and the reason you’re having the conversation, but don’t stop there. The tricky 10 - britain’s most difficult conversations occur in the workplace. 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. You’ll want to … 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. Resources to download: A manager's guide to difficult conversations in the workplace ( 52KB) ( 275KB) An employer's guide to resolving workplace issues … If an employee is consistently late, the first thing you should strive … “When you’re at work, you’re at work. 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. If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labeled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. “There were also proximity issues — his team was on one side of the country but he was on the other side. 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. 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. Be direct and start by describing the situation that required … Make sure your actions reinforce your words, adds Weeks. As mentioned in the previous point, difficult conversations at work can mean emotions are running high. Slowing your cadence and pausing before responding to the other person “gives you a chance to find the right words” and tends to “defuse negative emotion” from your counterpart, he says. 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. While your delivery of the message should be stoic, this doesn’t mean you shouldn't empathize. “Express your interest in understanding how the other person feels,” and “take time to process the other person’s words and tone,” he adds. No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy. Tabatha dreaded delivering the news. Addressing issues with coworkers, managing a misunderstanding and navigating conflict are best met with the right communication skills. Recently, for instance, she had to tell a successful, longtime employee that his position was being eliminated. Spend a little time to reflect on your attitude toward the situation and the … Michelle Stowe is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant. Acknowledge your counterpart’s perspective Don’t go into a difficult conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Listen To Qveen Herby, How To Stop Overwhelming Yourself With Your Deadlines, Best Tips For Staying Healthy While Working From Home, This Innovative Producer Mixes Up Cocktails And Virtual Theater, Bringing Them To Your Door, How Celebrity-Favorite Loungewear Brand Monrow Survived The 2008 Recession And Continues To Thrive, More Than A Decade In Business, Think About 2021 Goal-Setting Differently. You’ll want to clearly explain the reason for the conversation, the specific critique, and then offer suggestions to improve. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks. 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. “He wasn’t right for the position he was in.”. Having difficult conversations is hard to do successfully under the best of circumstances. “I still feel badly that it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t right,” she says. Leaders must gather as much detail as possible about what the other person is experiencing. Be compassionate “Experience tells us that these kinds of conversations often lead to [strained] working relationships, which can be painful,” says Manzoni. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. “We had to move on.”. These can take place in our personal lives with our families and friends and also in the workplace with our colleagues. Offer as many concrete examples as possible so the person understands you're not just pulling things out of thin air. 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