Having difficult conversations is an essential part of being a manager or supervisor. With preparation, clear communication, and a focus on finding a solution, you can handle these conversations in a productive and professional manner.
Examples of difficult conversations that managers or supervisors may need to have with their direct reports:
- Addressing performance issues or poor work quality.
- Discussing a direct report’s behavior that is impacting the team or workplace culture.
- Giving negative feedback on a specific project or assignment.
- Discussing an employee’s potential termination or disciplinary action.
- Addressing inappropriate or offensive behavior or language.
- Discussing changes to job responsibilities or roles.
- Talking about salary, benefits, or compensation-related issues.
- Providing feedback on areas where a direct report needs improvement.
- Addressing personal issues or challenges that are affecting job performance.
- Discussing a direct report’s career path or advancement opportunities within the company.
How to handle a difficult conversation ?
Handling difficult conversations with direct reports can be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to make the process smoother and more productive:
- Prepare for the conversation: Before you speak with your direct report, take some time to prepare. Identify the issue you want to address, consider the impact it has on the individual and the team, and think about what outcome you hope to achieve from the conversation.
- Use “I” statements: Start sentences with “I” instead of “you” to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, instead of saying, “You’re not meeting your targets,” you could say, “I’m concerned that we’re falling behind on our targets.”
- Choose the right time and place: Make sure you schedule the conversation at a time and place that is comfortable and private for both you and your direct report. Avoid having the conversation in public or during a time when either of you may be distracted.
- Be specific and clear: When you start the conversation, be specific about the issue you want to address. Clearly explain your concerns and what you expect from your direct report. Use concrete examples to help illustrate your points.
- Listen actively: Allow your direct report to share their perspective and respond to your concerns. Listen actively and avoid interrupting. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Show empathy: Show empathy and try to understand the other person’s feelings. Acknowledge their point of view and let them know that you hear them.
- Stay calm and professional: Even if the conversation becomes emotional or tense, try to remain calm and professional. Avoid becoming defensive or attacking the other person. Keep the focus on the issue and work collaboratively to find a solution.
- Focus on the issue: Stay focused on the issue at hand and avoid personal attacks or getting sidetracked. Keep the conversation on track and avoid bringing up past issues or unrelated topics.
- Offer solutions: Work collaboratively to find a solution that works for both parties. Brainstorm together to find a resolution to the problem.
- Follow up: Once the conversation is over, follow up with your direct report to ensure they understand what was discussed and the next steps that need to be taken. Schedule a follow-up meeting to check in on progress and provide feedback.
Plan for a difficult conversation, key points:
- Don’t postpone it.
- Schedule Enough time.
- Identify the goal of the conversation.
- Rehearse Approach: Starting point and key points.
- Challenge your inner thoughts if negative and approach the conversation in a positive, constructive frame.
- Consider possible outcomes, off- track conversations, and practise steering the conversation back to the goal.
- Assess Emotions: Anticipate emotions, acknowledge emotions, show compassion and manage emotions.
- Assess Facts: Identify bias, reverse roles and get a 3rd party opinion.
- Have the right mindset: Give the benefit of the doubt and engage in the conversation (rephrase), be collaborative.
- Propose a way forward (When possible).