Ways to manage a difficult conversation at work

Ways to manage a difficult conversation at work

Here’s how to adopt a mindful approach to get comfortable with confrontation.

Conducting a difficult conversation is never pleasant and the truth is many leaders are guilty of stalling and pushing them off to another date. But letting that discomfort rule your behaviour means you’re putting up with missed deadlines, average/substandard performance, and causing friction in the office. It can be a costly postponement. To help you, here are some tips on how to have that conversation and squarely face the situation.

  1. Begin on the right note
    Take the time to put yourself in the right frame of mind for the conversation. Plan an honest, direct approach that doesn’t accuse, ambush or reprimand. Start off with an objective statement about the issue and that you’d like to discuss, problem-solve or understand what went wrong. Be upfront and respectful, and make sure your tone, body language and words are all saying the same thing. This isn’t an inquisition but a discussion and an exploration to arrive at an amenable solution.

2. Keep your emotions in check
In conversations like this, you need to know how to manage emotions, yours as well as the other person’s. The mantra is to be responsive, not reactive. Before the meeting prepare yourself to not let emotions drive the conversation. Go in with an inquiring mindset, not a defensive one, otherwise it will just spiral into an ugly situation. Be mindful of respecting the other person even if you do not agree with what he/she is saying. Don’t let your annoyance and anger push you to say something hurtful and disrespectful.

3. Acknowledge the person’s point of view
Honestly be open to what the other person has to say. If you approach the situation with strongly held preconceived notions then you’re unlikely to resolve the issue. Approach the conversation with an inquiring mindset. A good leader understands the importance of keeping an open mind and seeking out the truth of a given situation. So open yourself to the other person and try to understand where he/she is coming from. What do they think is the problem? Express interest in understanding what the person is thinking. Pay attention to the words used, the tone, etc to glean a better understanding. Once you have this information see if your views overlap, what are the differences, etc.

4. Be consistent in your behaviour
As a leader you’re expected to apply the same rules to all employees and hold them all equally responsible for their performance. You shouldn’t give employees any reason to believe that you have a different set of rules for a certain group of people, who they see as getting preferential treatment. Be consistent in your approach, expectations and treatment of employees. The same applies to your behaviour during a difficult conversation. Be objective and fair about the situation, so as to do away with any perceived inequalities.

5. Confront the person’s behaviour
This is a professional situation so the other person’s behaviour is bound to impact business. So focus on the core behavioural issue and the impact it has on performance, projects, etc. Don’t make the mistake of linking it to the person’s personality. For example, saying their tardiness makes them irresponsible. This causes the other person to become defensive. Confront the behaviour not the person’s personality and your assessment of it.

Photograph: Katemangostar – Freepik.com