Handling Difficult Workplace Conversations

Sep 17, 2021 Workplace Advice

Are you dreading having to confront a struggling employee over a performance issue? Do you stress when you have a difficult conversation on the books? Unfortunately, we all tend to delay these conversations until it looms bigger and bigger in our minds. Handling difficult workplace conversations is a tricky affair.

Having a preset list of actions to follow in these situations dramatically reduces anxiety. Therefore, we at Veiramal Consulting have developed a list of actions to make the entire interaction smoother.

Plan 

You don’t want to over-prepare for a conversation but jotting down the must-do talking points is a beneficial process. This ensures that you cover everything you need to cover. With the additional benefit of making sure you don’t have to revisit the awkward experience because you forgot something critical.

Choose the setting 

We all know how tempting it is to convey uncomfortable messages from behind the veil of an email or a message. But there are so many cues missed by not being able to assess the body language of the person you are talking to. So an in-person meeting is recommended for difficult conversations or, in these unusual times, at least a face-to-face online meeting. Be sure to schedule plenty of time so that the information can sink in.

Check your mindset 

If you’re getting ready for a discussion you already know will be difficult, you may be feeling some negative emotions. Be honest with yourself about how hard the conversation might be, but also put as constructive a frame on it as possible. Focus on what you stand to gain from the conversation. By entering the conversation with an open mind, you are more likely to find common ground, regardless of your counterpart’s stance.

Empathise 

See the situation from the other person’s perspective. Try to imagine what your colleague might be thinking. She had a rationale for the way she’s behaved so far, even if you disagree with it. What might that reason be? Ask yourself questions like: What would I do if I were her? What if I were someone reporting to me? What if I were my boss?

Also, ask yourself: What is she trying to achieve? You’ll need a sense of what her goal is if you want to resolve it. Identify places where you see eye to eye on the issues. This common ground will give you a foundation to joint problem-solve.

Vent 

We know. It’s a frustrating situation, and all you want to do is explode in a burst of recriminations. But you’re obliged to be professional, courteous and soft-spoken. You can have it both ways. Find a close friend or trusted colleague and let it all out. Venting is a very effective form of stress relief if done discreetly. It would help if you then were much calmer when you start your meeting because you have already said everything you want to.

During the conversation 

You’re here. You’re hashing out the issues. Now you need to make sure it doesn’t get away from you. So keep a few small things in mind. Keep your cool. Listen. And make sure you’re heard.

End with an action plan 

What exactly are the things to be done to close the current issue. Define it in specific, definite terms. Whether it’s a task to be done or some training to be completed, there should be something concrete to tick off at some point in the near future.

Share your skills 

If you’re an employer or managing a team, the best way to minimise potential conflicts is to enable your subordinates to carry out this process themselves. So be sure to coach them on the same methods that you have found so useful.

At the end of the day, you have to have those difficult conversations, but there is no reason you can’t make it as easy on yourself as possible.

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