We need to talk. 4 simple words. Yet they are enough to make the best of us nervous.
How often have we avoided talking to someone simply because we do not want a difficult conversation? Not just in personal, but professional life as well. Although in the latter, difficult conversations may be essential in certain situations. For example, if someone is consistently performing below average, then they need to brought back on track. It is their manager’s (as well as teammates’ in some cases) responsibility to find out the root cause behind the problem.
While it may not be a pleasant task, it certainly cannot be avoided. Fortunately, there are certain steps that you can take and be prepared for difficult conversations.
Consider a scenario wherein you have recently conducted your team’s performance appraisals. Out of the 10 that report to you, 6 have performed quite well and received higher ratings. Of the remaining 4, 1 is dissatisfied and demanded (not requested) to have a one on one meeting with you at the earliest.
Now, it is a standard procedure for you to discuss the reasoning behind the ratings with each team member. But this employee does not want to follow protocol and instead seems to demand an explanation for the ratings.
Ways to master difficult conversations at work:
1. Be objective:
The very first thing that you should do is to control your emotions. Given that the employee is agitated, this is not going to be a calm or composed conversation. Tempers may be flared and voices raised to get one’s point across.
You want to have a meaningful conversation with the other person. Not a confrontation, as the employee would expect or rather prefer. By controlling your emotions and speaking objectively, you will be better able to convey the point of that meeting. If you too get angry, you could end up saying things in the heat of the moment that could have worse repercussions.
2. Gather information:
Gather as much information as possible and prepare yourself for the conversation. When you have all the information in front of you, it gets easier to answer the other person’s questions. The more factual your responses, the more control you have over the conversation.
Conversely, if you fumble for clarification, the other person may assume that they have scored a point against you. They may even believe that their argument is valid and that you are unable to answer their questions for the same reason.
For example, if you rated an employee lower on the scale for targets not achieved, you should have the exact numbers in front of you. The target could have been to achieve 10 sales in one quarter and the employee achieved only 2 in that period. Even if we assume that 10 sales was part of a stretch goal, then ideally at least 7-8 should have been achieved. This gap between the actual outcome and expected result is the reason for the lower rating.
This way the employee cannot accuse you of not relying on facts while rating his or her performance.
3. Be empathetic:
At the end of the day, we are all in the same team. So the meeting should not be about proving how the assessment was correct or how the employee’s reaction to it was wrong.
This is a chance for you to find out the reason behind their poor performance as well as behaviour. Step in their shoes for a minute and think about how you can help them overcome challenges that prevent them from achieving their goals.
Let them know that you are on their side. They will appreciate all the support that they can get to improve their performance. Which gets us to our next point.
4. Encourage them to ask questions:
One of the best ways to become more effective in your work is by asking questions. Encourage your employees to ask as many questions as possible. This is to ensure that they have a deeper understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Once they are able to see where their efforts fit in to the bigger picture, they will get more engaged in their work.
The employee could have had difficulty in navigating certain objections during the final sales stages. By asking questions on how to overcome these objections, he or she might have been able to close the sale as intended. Most people do not ask questions due to the fear of being ridiculed. Assure them that no matter how silly or basic these questions may appear, they may actually be important.
5. Help them come to a solution:
It is important to let employees come to a solution on their own. However, as opposed to spoon feeding them, there can be other ways to go about it. You need not dictate your solution but you can certainly work with them to arrive at one. That way they understand that they too have a say in the entire process.
While the tips mentioned here are from the perspective of a manager, they can easily be applicable to employees as well. How do you master difficult conversations in your workplace?