Difficult Conversations at Work: 6 Ways to Make Your Next One a Success

August 30, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

One of the most important skills for a leader to have is to conduct difficult conversations with employees effectively. Earlier this week I had a difficult conversation with an employee and the process reinforced to me the importance of this topic.

The truth is that most people avoid having difficult conversations. If you are able to cultivate the courage to have them, and the skills to conduct them effectively, you’ll progress dramatically. Your team will respect you, and you will carry out the goals that you set forth for yourself and organization much faster.

Since a lot of people struggle with this topic, I would like to give you some pointers and provide you with a reference point for every time that you have a difficult conversation. I even took it a step further and crafted a Difficult Conversation Worksheet to aid you in the process. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can easily find it when you need it.

I thought a lot about the difficult conversations that I have had in the past- about what went well, what didn’t, and I created these 6 suggestions to help make your next difficult conversation successful.

Tip #1: Determine the Goal of the Conversation

Why are you having it? What do you want to achieve? What do you want to communicate with the employee? Like any goal, make it clear so that there is no misunderstanding when you discuss with the employee. This can also make you stay on course during your conversation.

Tip #2: Identify Your Support Team to Discuss the Issue

When you are performing something that is difficult, it is very important get ideas and feedback from those you can rely on. Almost certainly, they’ll suggest an idea that you might not have thought about. Multiple minds will always be better than one when tackling a problem. Your manager, a co-worker, or someone in HR would be a good resource to talk about an employee problem with.

Tip #3: Compile the Facts

These are the reasons behind the conversation. If it is performance related, what measurable items is the employee not achieving? Centering on the facts will help you take the emotion from the conversation. You don’t want to make your conversation personal. Concentrate on the issue, not the person.

Tip #4: Schedule a Firm Date

It is important you set a date for the conversation and do not waver. Don’t procrastinate! I recommend you schedule the conversation within the next 3 days.

Tip #5: Choose a Suitable Location

Ideal locations will vary depending on the kind of conversation you must have. Decide whether you want to have it in your office, neutral ground (like a restaurant or conference room), or in the employees workspace. One-way conversations such as a termination might be best suited for your office. You ought to hold other conversations on neutral ground or perhaps a place where the employee is comfortable.

Tip #6: Schedule a Follow Up Meeting

I suggest that you also have a follow-up meeting for performance related conversations. As the saying goes- “expect what you inspect”. It is important that you re-address the issue with the employee on a future date to ensure he’s on target. One month is usually a good marker for a follow-up meeting with the employee.

Difficult conversation aren’t easy. The most important part of all this is to actually have the conversation. Even if you’re nervous and say everything wrong at least you introduce the elephant that is in the room and get the issue out on the table. This is the most important part of the entire process.

Just remember- practice makes perfect. The more of these you do, the better you are going to become. And the better you become, the more effective you will be as a leader in your organization.

Remember that most people avoid these conversations. With the initiative and tackle these conversations head on, you will stand out in the crowd, and prove that you have what it takes to get the job done. People will respect you for having the courage to talk about what matters.

For me, my conversation went well this week. I felt better after the conversation than beforehand, that’s for certain. I was nervous, and dreaded it a little. But when we sat down and I got what I needed to say off my chest, I felt better. And I also got one step closer to mastering a difficult skill.

For more information on achieving your leadership goals please visit Margin of Excellence at www.marginofexcellence.com.

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