They're never easy to conduct and you risk causing workplace disharmony when you broach the subject with an employee. 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. The actual words you use during the conversation matter. 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. “When you’re at work, you’re at work. We tend indeed to … This is the part of the difficult conversation where you discuss what it is you would like to change in the future. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact. If you see they’re really struggling with what you’ve said, pause for a minute while they collect themselves. 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. 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. 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. If an employee is consistently late, the first thing you should strive … Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Leaders must gather as much detail as possible about what the other person is experiencing. The worst thing you can do “is to ask your counterpart to have sympathy for you,” she says. 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. But it’s not always easy to have difficult conversations. Show your counterpart “that you care,” says Manzoni. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? From delivering performance reviews to saying no to extra projects, difficult conversations are a regular part of work life. Offer a solution. And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible? All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. While your delivery of the message should be stoic, this doesn’t mean you shouldn't empathize. Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. It’s wise, therefore, to come at sensitive topics from a place of empathy. The Most Difficult Conversations You Have Ever Had At Work Readers share stories of weird, scary, and embarrassing office conversations. Your managers should be able to be pragmatic and ensure any conversations with an individual employee remains focused and productive. 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. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. Be direct and start by describing the situation that required … 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. “It was a process.”, Before even broaching the subject with the employee, she reminded herself of her good intentions. What Does Purpose-Driven Leadership Really Mean? We have produced a 13 minute recorded PowerPoint presentation to support you when having difficult conversations at work, during the Coronavirus pandemic. Do Share Your Feelings. “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. © 2020 Forbes Media LLC. Take a beat and alter your mindset. Offer as many concrete examples as possible so the person understands you're not just pulling things out of thin air. The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received. 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. Focus On Creating Value. 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 — whether you’re telling a client the project is delayed or presiding over an unenthusiastic performance review — are an inevitable part of management. 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. An employee is consistently late. Make sure your actions reinforce your words, adds Weeks. 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. The reality is that difficult conversations are inevitable in the workplace, and it is important that they are conducted well. Acknowledge your counterpart’s perspective Don’t go into a difficult conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. 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. 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. You’ll also want to talk about the outcome you’d like to see. Apply the difficult conversation formula. 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. After he spoke, she offered her own perspective on the problem. “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. “I wanted to know what frustrations he was having,” she says. Before you broach the topic, Weeks recommends asking yourself two questions: “What is the problem? 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. 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. Tabatha dreaded delivering the news. Even if the conversation is to fire an employee, you should still offer a suggestion that will help them improve in their next job. 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. 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. Once you hear it, look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s. “Learn how to disarm yourself by imitating what you see,” she says. 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. Breathe “The more calm and centered you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. 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. By their final conversation, the employee had decided to leave the company. 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. Questions serve a double purpose. 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. 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. As a result, we tend to avoid them. Sometimes these occur because expectations were not met. 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. Difficult conversations at work At times, we are all faced with conversations that are difficult, but important. Having difficult conversations may never be easy, but there are ways to make those conversations both productive and as painless as possible. 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 “I didn’t want to rush things,” she says. “We had to move on.”. 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. Conflict is scary, but uncomfortable conversations can get us to a resolution (if you listen carefully to what is really being said). Think of how the other person will feel during the conversation, and allow them to process their emotions. Part of active listening working well in difficult conversations is avoiding planning too much. This is not the time for feedback sandwiches or an excess of compliments. “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. “Be constructive,” says Manzoni. It can help if you simply look at things from a fact based standpoint, and focus solely on that. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. 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. If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labeled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Illustrating what a positive outcome looks like gives the employee something solid to work towards, and helps them understand why they’re being disciplined. Handling Difficult Conversations Guidance, Tips and Best Practices. “You need to have the right energy going into something like this. 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. They had a great talk and even ended the conversation with a hug. Having difficult conversations is hard to do successfully under the best of circumstances. Ashira Prossack is a coach, speaker, and former competitive athlete helping business leaders unlock their full potential through a sports-based approach to professional. “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. The tricky 10 - britain’s most difficult conversations occur in the workplace. 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. All rights reserved. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. Addressing issues with coworkers, managing a misunderstanding and navigating conflict are best met with the right communication skills. 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. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. Difficult conversations become necessary for a variety of reasons. Be compassionate “Experience tells us that these kinds of conversations often lead to [strained] working relationships, which can be painful,” says Manzoni. Michelle Stowe is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant. How can you use difficult conversations with clients as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship? 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 ability to tackle tough issues with tact and respect is an important skill for any professional. “Express your interest in understanding how the other person feels,” and “take time to process the other person’s words and tone,” he adds. You must outline the critique and the reason you’re having the conversation, but don’t stop there. These can take place in our personal lives with our families and friends and also in the workplace with our colleagues. No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy. This is not a conversation you want to have in the spur of the moment. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. Confrontation suggests meeting someone face-to-face with hostile intent. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. You’ll want to clearly explain the reason for the conversation, the specific critique, and then offer suggestions to improve. … Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery is muddled. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds. Be considerate; be compassionate. You’ll want to … By cultivating a culture of trust and openness and fostering strong communication practices, you can successfully navigate tricky topics and help your team thrive. “I really liked this person,” she says. “I grew up in a military environment where there’s no bluff,” she says. 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. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks. Not every difficult conversation is going to be “confrontational” … [Tilt view silhouette: iofoto via Shutterstock ] 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. Do Put Together a Conversational Strategy. As mentioned in the previous point, difficult conversations at work can mean emotions are running high. “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. Don’t let your emotions dictate your delivery. 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. “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. Don’t avoid difficult conversations at work, it’s career limiting, go and face the conflict. 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. 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. 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. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. “There were also proximity issues — his team was on one side of the country but he was on the other side. Both of these feedback techniques will mask the point of the conversation and lessen its impact. 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. Difficult conversations are mostly listening and reflecting, or at least they should. Few people like confrontation. Nothing is worse than delivering a critique and leaving it just at that. This is especially important when the conversation is with an employee who you care greatly for or work closely with. How to handle difficult conversations at work Effective communication is the key to a happy and successful team. 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. While it might seem like you’re being too harsh diving right into the critique, you’re actually doing the other person a favor. Asking questions helps the other person process what’s happened, and it allows you to clarify and solidify details of the conversation. “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. If you get emotional, so will the other person. “I still feel badly that it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t right,” 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. Think of the questions they might ask and have answers prepared. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a … But we’re not asking managers to just have those conversations. But that’s not the right answer. 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 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. That means active listening on both sides and taking notes for questions later, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next. 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. 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