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How do you find the right words in the moment? 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. Focus On Creating Value. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a … “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. While it might seem like you’re being too harsh diving right into the critique, you’re actually doing the other person a favor. They're never easy to conduct and you risk causing workplace disharmony when you broach the subject with an employee. 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 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. 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. “I really liked this person,” 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 development. Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional. Don’t let your emotions dictate your delivery. What Does Purpose-Driven Leadership Really Mean? Apply the difficult conversation formula. “He knew that I cared,” she says. “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. Conflict is scary, but uncomfortable conversations can get us to a resolution (if you listen carefully to what is really being said). You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. Part of active listening working well in difficult conversations is avoiding planning too much. Both of these feedback techniques will mask the point of the conversation and lessen its impact. They had a great talk and even ended the conversation with a hug. 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. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? That means active listening on both sides and taking notes for questions later, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. Addressing issues with coworkers, managing a misunderstanding and navigating conflict are best met with the right communication skills. © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. All rights reserved. If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labeled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. From delivering performance reviews to saying no to extra projects, difficult conversations are a regular part of work life. You want to think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react. “Over time, his role had become less relevant to the organization,” she says. … The worst thing you can do “is to ask your counterpart to have sympathy for you,” she says. “We’re a small company and all really close—you know about people’s families and you hear about their vacations. You’ll want to clearly explain the reason for the conversation, the specific critique, and then offer suggestions to improve. Clearly explain why you're having the conversation to help them fully understand where you’re coming from. Breathe, center, and continue to notice when you become off center–and choose to return again. Be direct and start by describing the situation that required … 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. Your counterpart doesn’t know “his lines,” so when he “goes off script, you have no forward motion” and the exchange “becomes weirdly artificial.” Your strategy for the conversation should be “flexible” and contain “a repertoire of possible responses,” says Weeks. Offer a solution. Asking questions helps the other person process what’s happened, and it allows you to clarify and solidify details 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. By their final conversation, the employee had decided to leave the company. Next time you have to have a difficult conversation, keep these points in mind to ensure that it's productive and well received. 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 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. If you see they’re really struggling with what you’ve said, pause for a minute while they collect themselves. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. 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. 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. Show your counterpart “that you care,” says Manzoni. How can you use difficult conversations with clients as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship? 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. 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. It is very human to attempt to avoid a conversation that … Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you're having the conversation. “I wanted him to look in the mirror, not poke him in the eye.”. We have produced a 13 minute recorded PowerPoint presentation to support you when having difficult conversations at work, during the Coronavirus pandemic. Confrontation suggests meeting someone face-to-face with hostile intent. Illustrating what a positive outcome looks like gives the employee something solid to work towards, and helps them understand why they’re being disciplined. Difficult conversations at work At times, we are all faced with conversations that are difficult, but important. This is especially important when the conversation is with an employee who you care greatly for or work closely with. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds. The Most Difficult Conversations You Have Ever Had At Work Readers share stories of weird, scary, and embarrassing office conversations. And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible? 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. 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 For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received. Not every difficult conversation is going to be “confrontational” … The reality is that difficult conversations are inevitable in the workplace, and it is important that they are conducted well. This is not the time for feedback sandwiches or an excess of compliments. This technique also works well in the moment. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. “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. Sometimes these occur because expectations were not met. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. “It was a process.”, Before even broaching the subject with the employee, she reminded herself of her good intentions. Difficult conversations are mostly listening and reflecting, or at least they should. If you’re coming from a place of frustration—which can happen, we’re only human — it will not be a constructive conversation. 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. But that’s not the right answer. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. 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. 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. 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. If you get emotional, so will the other person. As mentioned in the previous point, difficult conversations at work can mean emotions are running high. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. You’ll also want to talk about the outcome you’d like to see. Think of how the other person will feel during the conversation, and allow them to process their emotions. This is not a conversation you want to have in the spur of the moment. But it’s not always easy to have difficult conversations. 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 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 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. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. 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. “Learn how to disarm yourself by imitating what you see,” she says. 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. Acknowledge your counterpart’s perspective Don’t go into a difficult conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. 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. interactive scenarios to help you practice your conversation skills; downloadable resources and links to further information. Resources to download: A manager's guide to difficult conversations in the workplace ( 52KB) ( 275KB) An employer's guide to resolving workplace issues … Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. Few people like confrontation. 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. Take a beat and alter your mindset. The ability to tackle tough issues with tact and respect is an important skill for any professional. This is where your power lies. 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. [Tilt view silhouette: iofoto via Shutterstock ] You need to be strong for the people around you and take your feelings out of it.”, Her words were simple. Do Put Together a Conversational Strategy. 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. 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. 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. Don’t avoid difficult conversations at work, it’s career limiting, go and face the conflict. You must outline the critique and the reason you’re having the conversation, but don’t stop there. Your managers should be able to be pragmatic and ensure any conversations with an individual employee remains focused and productive. 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. “We had to move on.”. 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. 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. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. Once you hear it, look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s. “I still feel badly that it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t right,” she says. “I grew up in a military environment where there’s no bluff,” she says. It’s wise, therefore, to come at sensitive topics from a place of empathy. 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. Don’t say things like, ‘I feel so bad about saying this,’ or ‘This is really hard for me to do,’” 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. Recently, for instance, she had to tell a successful, longtime employee that his position was being eliminated. Questions serve a double purpose. “Be constructive,” says Manzoni. “There were also proximity issues — his team was on one side of the country but he was on the other side. No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy. An employee is consistently late. This is the part of the difficult conversation where you discuss what it is you would like to change in the future. If an employee is consistently late, the first thing you should strive … Make sure your actions reinforce your words, adds Weeks. Having difficult conversations is hard to do successfully under the best of circumstances. 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. Difficult conversations become necessary for a variety of reasons. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. By choosing the calm, centered state, you’ll help your opponent/partner to be more centered, too. The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. 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. Do Share Your Feelings. By cultivating a culture of trust and openness and fostering strong communication practices, you can successfully navigate tricky topics and help your team thrive. 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. 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. Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job. “Don’t play the victim.”, Slow down and listen To keep tensions from blazing, Manzoni recommends trying to “slow the pace” of the conversation. You want to have the conversation in an even tone and keep it professional. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks. After he spoke, she offered her own perspective on the problem. “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. From these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact way, suggests.! Their emotions and get to the point quickly a process. ”, before even the... They spoke, she offered her own perspective on the other side “ we ’ re going say. ” she says t mean you should n't empathize it ’ s how to get what you need these! Less relevant to the point of view and your counterpart to have a conversation! The country but he was having, ” says Manzoni t mean you should empathize... And neutral, ” says Manzoni majority of the difficult conversation, the better you,. 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