If you lead people you will most likely find yourself in a situation where you’ve got to have a tough talk with an employee or team member. And by “tough,” I mean a conversation in which you have to confront this individual about poor performance, something ethical about their behavior at work (or outside of work), or perhaps habits that don’t serve them well in their role. There are a number of reasons why these conversations can be difficult. You may really like and respect this person and don’t want to risk offending them. These talks can also require great communication skills, which you may not have perfected as of yet. If something is potentially litigious, you may find yourself needing to plan ahead and carefully. As these conversations are inevitable, however, your best course of action is not to fear them but learn how to navigate them with as much grace and tact as possible.
Here are three tips to help you navigate these difficult conversations:
1. Focus On Fixing The Problem, Not The Person
Over the years, MAP consultants have frequently coached clients on this very point—it’s incredibly common for developing leaders to personalize discussion points until they learn techniques that help them avoid this tendency. What’s the issue? When you focus on the person and not the problem, it gets personal! People go into defense mode, and then it’s hard for them to receive feedback effectively. And if a change in behavior is necessary, they’ll be more resistant to it because of how the conversation went down. Be mindful of how you express facts in your communications and attack the problem, not the person.
2. Be Respectful
When having a difficult conversation, it helps to be respectful to the individual you are addressing. People will tend to be more open to the feedback if you use an effective style that doesn’t beat the person up. Remember the goal of the conversation is to help the individual get better.
3. Remain Open To The Person’s Point Of View
This means don’t talk all the time but give your team member a chance to express his or her side of a story, how he or she has seen or experienced events, and reasons why situations or scenarios might be happening. Being open reflects a confident leadership style that invites understanding. And understanding is vital for developing the right solutions and inspiring change. Given all this, in listening to the person’s point of view, also be aware that you need to keep the conversation on topic versus on a tangent that won’t serve either of you for the better. Finally, have a plan for when to wrap it up. Whether you set a time limit for the conversation in advance or have a list or plan for what to say and when, keep the end in mind. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck in a conversation in which you’ve lost control.