Handling Difficult Conversations at Work

5 Best Practices for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work

Do you know handling difficult conversations at work is an integral part of team building and developing a work culture? If you do not address these issues at the beginning, they have the potential to distract the team from the set goals.

At the same time, these are tough and, at times, awkward conversations that have to be executed with a proper plan and care.

There are several types of difficult conversations at work. These could be about conflict at the workplace, performance, personal issues, or negative feedback. The ability to address these issues, which are faced regularly by employees, is an important component of supporting employees.

It is important to effectively handle a difficult conversation at work in a one-to-one meeting. Successful execution of these tasks is expected to contribute to the continuous development of the employees.

Here are few tips on how to handle difficult conversations at work

Having difficult conversations with employees is a tough but important part of managers. These tips are expected to give shape to your effort in a planned manner:

1. Set a productive agenda

It is important to set a productive agenda to execute a successful one-to-one conversation with the employee.

The one-to-one discussions are done to get the communication flowing between the two individuals so that the tension can be diffused. The agenda sent to the employee needs to be positive and forthcoming, rather than threatening and aggressive.

It is better to say, ‘I am eager to hear your side of the story about the different thoughts that cropped up in the last team meeting. Can we discuss it in the next one-to-one?’ rather than saying ‘We have to discuss what happened in the last team meeting’

If you are struggling with setting a productive agenda, Springworks’ Engagement Solutions will help you get the right solution.

Pro tip: It is better to share the agenda in advance so that the employee is aware of the topic at hand and comes prepared with his/her side of the story.

2. Do not mix facts and feelings

There should always be a clear distinction between facts and feelings. A good way to do it is to separate the two in your mind first.

Creating a block for facts in which all the known elements are placed is the first step in this direction. The next step is to put all the unknown elements, preconceived notions, and assumptions in one block.

How would you want the conversation to flow? What do you plan to achieve with this conversation? These are important questions that will help in preparing for the conversation and do enough homework.

Another approach towards doing it is thinking about the advice you would give to your friend by understanding the issue if he/she was in your position or the employee’s position. While preparing for the meeting with some notes and material is important, it is equally important not to overdo it.

Always review your notes and file before the one-to-one conversation and be clear about how it will help solve the issue at hand.

Pro tip: The facts can be used to drive the conversation backward with the planned outcome in mind.

3. Encourage honesty

The idea of having these one-to-one conversations is to handle tricky topics and discussions. It is better to state the ground rules at the very beginning.

The employee has to feel that you want to hear his/her side of the story and not just sit there to check one element off your to-do list.

Another way to create an environment for honest discussions is to regularly have these discussions rather than avoid giving negative feedback or handling personal/professional conflicts.

Pro tip: You can straightaway tell the employee that you are fine with these conversations being awkward. This will encourage honesty in discussions and make them a bit more forthcoming.

4. Develop understanding beyond policy

It is not always the best idea to state the rules of the company policies in response to the arguments made by the employee when looking at difficult conversations at work scenarios.

The idea is to ensure that the employee leaves the room feeling that the manager cares and is open to hearing the employees’ perspectives.

Creating an environment of empathy and a sense of openness between the manager and employee is very important towards developing an understanding of the overall contours of the professional relationship and work culture.

Pro tip: Always aim to develop an understanding with the employees based on empathy and openness so that difficult topics could be addressed with ease.

5. Look for teamwork in finding the solution

The important part of these one-to-one conversations is to have clear action points. One way to do it is to look at the action items of the manager and employee and decide on the way forward.

Few difficult conversation exercises include supporting teamwork in finding the right solution and setting the right expectations on the next steps.

Setting a follow-up meeting could be a good starting point to have the course of action ready and clear the expectations from each other.

Pro tip: These conversations aim to find the most productive solution for the organization and not about proving one right or driving your point home.

These are the few techniques for managing challenging conversations. Managing difficult conversations in the workplace is tricky but can drive teamwork and improve work culture. Handling difficult conversations provides the ability to drive these conversations with an open mind, empathy, and care. 

Springworks Team

Building products and tools to simplify the life of an org's HR function in terms of recruiting, onboarding & retention!

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