4 Things to Remember When Having the Tough Conversations
Part of managing other people and working in a team environment involves having the occasional uncomfortable or tough conversation about someone’s behavior or how they may be contributing (or not contributing) to the team. For many, this is the most difficult part of management. Everyone likes to be in charge, but few like to be the ones to deliver bad news. Don’t avoid this opportunity; the more you have to become adept at delivering the tough conversations, the easier it is over time. Luckily, there are some tips you can follow to help minimize the stress you feel and the stress the employee may feel during the conversation.
First, always approach the conversation calmly, from a place of respect. Whatever the transgression may be, there is no reason to take it personally and there is no reason to make the other person feel belittled. If it is a minor infraction, let them know what they did, why it is unacceptable, and provide some context to them, if you can, on why it is unacceptable. If it is a more serious infraction, you might want to involve your HR Department (or another manager) as a witness to the conversation. Most importantly, be clear and be concise.
Secondly, let them know what an acceptable solution may be to that problem in the future. This is your opportunity to coach them towards the kind of behavior you would like to see in your employee. Let them know the company expectations towards the topic, and your expectations as their manager. However, don’t let this one conversation be the only time you mention your expectations….help to reinforce their behavior regularly.
Third, the employee may know that their work is suffering, or they are in breach of one of the company policies, so be sure to ask them how they think their work is going or if they think that their behavior fits in with the company ideals. You may be surprised to find out that they are aware of their shortcomings and are struggling due to external or internal issues that they may tell you about. Whether you can help with these issues or not, may depend on the issue, but you can conduct the conversation with empathy and understanding. Approaching the conversation as two-sided, allowing the person to speak their side, will help preserve working relations in the future.
Finally, always be sure to acknowledge the employee’s opinion and to explain “why” if they are unclear on why they are in violation of a policy, or if their work is not living up to expectations. Clearly set your expectations, inform the employee in an unambiguous way, reinforce any positive changes and put a stop to negative trends you may see, and above all else, always maintain your professional and positive cool when conducting serious and challenging conversations.
In my own experience, I have been on both sides of the “tough conversation” – I have been the employee who needed some guidance or feedback to get on the right track, and I have been the manager who had to deliver that hard news myself. Truth be told, neither one of those positions is necessarily easier than the other. No one likes to be the one to deliver bad news (and no one likes to receive it), but if you can handle the hard conversations with grace and empathy, while maintaining your composure, you will be well on your way to leadership success.
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