6 Tips to Help You Prepare for Difficult Workplace Conversations

Every leader and manager at every level has a dirty little secret they’re actively hiding. While I hate to be the spoiler, it’s true, and I’m duty bound to blow the lid off of this secret.

Yes, the unvarnished truth is that they’re all actively avoiding conducting difficult workplace conversations. This likely includes you. I know that I’ve been guilty of stalling and pushing these conversations off to some unplanned and more appropriate time in the future. I learned the hard way that no one wins when the leader delays confronting a tough topic.

Whether you’re the first-line supervisor who has received complaints (that you’ve validated) that Bob might want to change or use deodorant, or, you’re the CEO who is delaying facing the reality that her star hire is flaming out, there’s a tough conversation renting space in your mind somewhere.

It’s time to free up that space and reduce your pre-conversation anxiety with some proper preparation.

Start planning by focusing on the benefits of conducting this overdue conversation

In the most serious of situations, the health of your team, your firm and even your reputation is being adversely impacted by your stalling efforts. By facing up to and conducting the conversation, you will be effectively eliminating an obstacle, solving a long-standing problem and/or enabling someone or some group to strengthen in their pursuit of success.

And yes, you’ll free up the space this anxiety-inducing future event has been renting in your mind.

Assess the situation and desired direction for the discussion

Ask yourself: what type of situation am I dealing with here? Think through the situation and focus on identifying the most likely approach or outcome. It’s helpful for some managers to categorise the situation before conducting the discussion. While there’s not a universal categorisation, the framework of: coach, train, counsel or empower is a useful starting point.

Some situations merit coaching, where you encourage, offer feedback and challenge the individual to adjust or adapt via practice.

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Other situations are clear-cut examples of where skills are the issue. In this case, training is a viable approach followed by observation and coaching.

In some situations, behaviour adjustment is essential for safety, acceptable performance or broader productivity. The chronically late employee jeopardises group performance. The caustic employee jeopardises team health. These situations must come complete with implications. I reference these euphemistically as “counselling conversations.”

In situations where an individual displays competence or mastery the situation calls for empowering them to do more. While a positive situation, many individuals are comfortable being comfortable, and you will be challenged to guide them into new areas and challenges.

Focus on identifying the core behavioural issue

The purpose of a feedback or coaching discussion is to support behaviour change or strengthening. Attitude is not a behaviour. What is the core behaviour that you and others have observed that is impacting performance? Be specific.

Link the behaviour to the business, not the person. Resist indicating the chronically late person as lazy or irresponsible. Focus on the impact tardiness has on the ability of the team or function or individual to successfully complete his/her work.

Similarly, the CEO’s star hire may be indecisive on key talent or strategic issues. Focus on the impact the lack of a timely decision has on business performance.

For example:

John, you’ve been late for your shift 3 times in two weeks. When you are late, your team-members have to cover your area and their own at the same time. This adds stress to the group, increases mistakes and jeopardises the quality of our service to our customers.

Cheryl, you’ve lingered on two key decisions for the past month. The lack of decisions for these issues is pushing out our timetable. As you know, we’re playing catch-up with our competitors in these areas and delays on our part will directly impact our top and bottom-line results next year.

Difficult workplace conversations

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How to utilise informal coaching to improve employee performance

Most leaders understand the importance of performance feedback. It has been proven that consistent feedback, when properly delivered, has a positive impact on employees’ performance and attitude Mary K Paige, a content writer at my essay writing, assumes. However, performance feedback is one of the areas where most organisations have a lot of room for improvement.

In many cases, feedback is only given during an annual performance and salary review. Managers and employees both dread these meetings, and they are often a cause of great stress in the workplace. During these yearly reviews, employees typically spend most of the time listening to their manager talk to them about their performance over the previous year.

It is the manager that initiates the discussion, controls the conversation and its direction, with little time for the employee to contribute. Employees often discover in these meetings that they did something fantastic six months earlier (which they can’t remember), or they learn that they fell short of expectations months ago (which they also cannot remember).

Formal meetings about performance are important to help employees stay on the right track throughout the year, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. In order to create real, measurable, and meaningful change, it is also important to supplement those formal, documented meetings with continuous, informal coaching that is delivered as things happen.

That way, the action is still fresh in the memory of both the manager and the employee, and the employee will be less likely to disregard the feedback as they can see precisely how it is related to a specific event or behaviour.

Informal, real-time feedback

Informal feedback happens in real time. For example, an employee may have sent out a mass email that was necessary for his team, but that email may have been ill-timed or poorly worded.

In such a case, his manager might drop by his workspace to say thank you for taking the lead on the email, but the manager may also take the opportunity to ask questions of the employee so the employee can reflect back on how the email could have been worded better, or timed more properly.

In a case like this, there is no need for formal documentation of the behaviour; it is an opportunity for development and adjustment by the employee. The next time the employee sends a mass email that is written well, timed properly, and communicates the right message; the manager should acknowledge the success to help reinforce the changes.

Informal feedback can be incredibly valuable for helping employees succeed, but if managers notice that a specific behaviour is not improving after repeated conversations, it signals the need for a formal approach. It is up to leaders to help their employees fail forward—that is, take a small failure, learn from it, and use that learning experience to grow and develop.

Moving from informal to formal

During formal, documented meetings, it may be necessary to revisit some of the behaviours—both positive and negative—that have been discussed informally throughout the month.

Not all feedback will need to be dealt with in a formal meeting, however. If the behaviour is related to a specific and previously documented goal such as accountability and accuracy, a formal meeting is probably necessary.

However, dealing with soft skills, like an employee’s communication style or problem solving approach may not necessarily require a formal meeting.  The behaviour will often determine the type of feedback that will be appropriate and effective.

All feedback, whether negative or positive, must be anchored with specific examples in a formal setting. Employees must know precisely what they are doing right or wrong so that they can adjust their behaviour properly. Without these specific examples, managers are merely offering praise or criticism.

When leaders provide consistent formal and informal feedback, employees have the opportunity throughout the year to improve their productivity and their results. By checking in on a regular basis, the annual salary meeting becomes just another administrate task rather than a source of stress for everyone involved.

Plan and practice your opening sentence

In dozens of workshops helping individuals learn how to successfully navigate difficult discussions, the activity of crafting and practicing the opening sentence is consistently identified as the single most important step in a successful process.

Take the time to write down the issues and behaviours and form and frame and then practice your opening sentence. There’s a high degree of correlation between nailing your conversation opener and conducting an effective, constructive conversation.

Plan and practice your opening sentence until it is comfortable.

Plan for the final destination of this initial conversation

You’ve already assessed the situation (coaching, training, counselling, empowering). Your objective is to gain agreement (ideal) or compliance (in counselling circumstances) in support of behaviour strengthening or change. While conducting the discussion is both art and science and a topic for a subsequent post, you should plan on how you will introduce the desired next steps.

In some cases, it will be a dialog and in other cases a mandate. Know where you want the conversation to end before you begin the conversation.

Plan for a reasonable and proper time horizon

Know and be prepared to articulate whether a behaviour change is required immediately or, whether it is to be observed over time and via coaching and regular feedback.

The conversation isn’t the end of the process and those who master difficult conversations have a clear idea of a time horizon for the right changes to take place. (This discussion also begs the issue of feedback versus feedforward—a planned future post.)

In Summary

Effective leaders and great managers understand the importance and urgency of difficult workplace conversations. And while our tendency might be to stall or avoid them entirely, this approach is detrimental to everyone involved.

The first step in dealing with your overdue difficult workplace conversations is best spent as a planning session. Measure twice, cut once. And yes, we all know that prior planning prevents particularly poor performance.

About the Author

Alana D. Frazier is a copywriter at the write my essay online. Besides, she is fond of learning something new so that she tries to keep up with advancing technologies. Besides, she attends different conferences and presentations to improve her skills.

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