One of the biggest difficulties for employers is dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace. They often get rid of them by avoiding them. But this has negative consequences for both parties. The best solution is to tackle difficult conversations yourself from the start in order to maintain good working relationships.
Over the past generation, companies have poured a lot of time and money into human resource development, and yet the same disruptive behavior permeates the corporate culture. The problem lies in difficult conversations!
Whether it’s the rise of the digital world, the rise of virtual and distributed teams, or the public shaming that’s happening on social platforms, people prefer to abandon ship rather than face challenges.
Fear of retribution or rejection often keeps people from speaking their minds, and according to Vital Smarts, each failed conversation costs a company an average of $7,500.
While many executives feel comfortable being in charge of a budget worth millions, the thought of an employee’s uncomfortable emotional reaction can create so much anxiety that such conversations should be avoided. Eventually, feelings can become uncomfortable.
But not having these conversations creates a leadership gap that impacts morale, employee retention, and the bottom line. Avoiding bold conversations creates ripples that impede growth.
Here are 7 ways to have difficult conversations
In other words, when you bring people on board for difficult conversations, turbulence can happen, but it’s also inevitable. Here are seven ways you can land safely with all passengers.
1. Bypass the ego
Often people wait until an interpersonal situation requires a Navy Seal-worthy deduction before addressing it, but the more you avoid a conflict, the more emotional it becomes.
Disrupting a behavior pattern at first glance is more proactive than the point-of-no-return approach. Having open, honest, and transparent conversations shortly after an issue arises is a habit you’ll want to develop. Practical exercises make the discussions easier to master in the future.
2. Preparation is the be-all and end-all
It’s important that you take the time to plan responses to potentially challenging situations that don’t go according to plan. Conversations you make off the cuff can come across as inauthentic and disingenuous.
Instead, spend time coming up with good questions that will help you understand how the situation unfolded and everyone’s role in it. Invest in prevention and its future possibilities.
3. Look beyond behavior
It’s more productive to understand someone’s intentions than to layer blame and shame on the conversation. A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted the importance of entering a difficult conversation with the right energy by asking yourself, “What’s the best way to get the message across to this person?”
By starting a conversation about how things are going for him or her, you create an opportunity for self-reflection. You can’t be angry and think about yourself at the same time.
4. Embrace instructive moments
Many leaders procrastinate difficult conversations by ignoring behaviors that don’t align with company values, which causes emotions to build up over time.
Discussing concerns via email is impersonal and too easy to misinterpret. Be proactive and organize face-to-face meetings.
5. Be compassionate
Take the time to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see if there are other factors contributing to the current situation. Your empathy lowers the likelihood of a defensive response. Also, consider the ideal time or place for the conversation. Neutral locations can help you avoid interruptions or eavesdropping.
Choose your words carefully, paying attention to the tone of voice and body language. Know your emotional triggers and the boundaries of your role and responsibility, and if you feel like you’ve been triggered, hit the pause button and take a break.
6. Lead with your feelings
Before, during, and after the conversation, pay attention to your feelings to make sure you are reacting and not reacting. Another method to avoid tension should be to slow the pace of the conversation.
When you slow down, you can gather your thoughts and choose words that are congruent with your actions.
7. Work out solutions together
If both parties get involved, the chance of behavior change increases. After such a meeting, it is important to agree on the outcome.
A written acknowledgment soon after helps avoid confusion and prevent misunderstandings and is an example of how—with a willingness to listen respectfully and speak honestly—a difficult conversation can turn into a constructive interaction that benefits everyone.
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