Eight Tips on How to Manage Difficult Conversations

<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Eight Tips on How to Manage Difficult Conversations</span>

Svåra samtal. Två män som samtalar vid ett skrivbord. Co-workers misbehaving. Problematic attitudes or improper behavior towards customers or colleagues. Termination, redeployment, or other tough messages… Some conversations in the workplace can feel extra challenging to have – still; they must be had. Here are tips and advice for you about to have a difficult talk.

Difficult Conversations – Check List for You as a Manager

  1. Choose Your Timing Make sure to choose an opportunity when you and the employee have enough time and can sit down peacefully without risking interruptions. Also, remember that the co-worker should be able to leave the meeting without feeling uncomfortable, for example, if there are colleagues within the same facility. A close follow-up on the conversation is commonly necessary, so make sure this possibility exists. In other words, avoid scheduling the conversation for a Friday afternoon or right before vacation.
  2. Preparation is Key Preparing and practicing will make you feel more secure before the tough talk. Think about what you want to say and write down keywords on paper. During such sensitive moments, we have difficulty taking in loads of information, so try to limit what you want to say to one or a few messages that conclude the main points.Tears, anger, strong words, or perhaps complete denial – also be prepared that the conversation can arouse strong reactions with the counterpart. What are your strategies for handling this? Practicing (perhaps with a colleague) and trying to predict different scenarios will make it easier – both to keep calm and to ensure that you achieve what you set out for. Do you feel safe having the conversation on your own? If not, talk to a colleague, manager, or the HR department and ask for support.
  3. Don’t Sugar-Coat Your Message When we are about to bring up something sensitive, it’s easy to be drawn towards toning down the situation and sugar-coating the message to make the counterpart more comfortable – something that may cause uncertainty and confusion. In other words: Get to the point as fast as possible.Being honest and direct doesn’t mean you can’t be empathetic. For example, a good way to initiate your difficult talk could be to inform your employee beforehand that you have something challenging or sensitive that you want to discuss. After this, explain that the employee is valuable to you and that it’s important to you that they enjoy work, their work tasks, and/or get along with their customers and colleagues. Next, you describe the situation or event that led to this conversation, its consequences, and what needs to change.
  4. Focus on the Work, Not the Person Does the conversation involve any form of criticism of the employee? In that case, ensure that what you say has valid ground and that you proceed from actual events and behaviors – never something connected to the employee’s personality or intentions. Be as specific as possible, and mention examples of times when things have gone wrong to clarify what you mean and give the employee a chance to reciprocate.
  5. Use I-Messages Proceed from yourself – tell them what you have noticed and your experience of how it affects work and/or the colleagues. Also, use I-messages in your difficult conversation: “I experience” or “I have noticed that” instead of claims like “you are.” When we proceed from our own experience, we open up for dialogue – and reduce the risk of the recipient becoming defensive.
  6. Listen Actively Are you following? What do you think and feel about this? Do you have any suggestions for how we can solve this problem? Check that the employee has received your message and create space for them to relay their perception and experiences of the situation.In addition, remember not to rush. Ask the employee if they need time to think. Then, listen actively and confirm what the employee has just told you by using your own words and follow up with control questions such as “Did I understand this correctly?”.
  7. What Have We Agreed Upon? Before you part, remember to conclude the conversation and check that you both agree. Check (again) that the employee has understood everything that has been said and if they have anything else to add.
  8. How Do We Proceed, and Who Does What? Make sure you follow up on your difficult conversation with a brief check after a few days. The message will have sunk in, and you can discuss any feelings that may have arisen since the last time and what should be the next step forward. This part also involves creating an action plan where you write down goals and interim goals, check-in times, and who does what. If you haven’t already, also consider if someone within or outside the organization (for example, occupational health care) needs to be involved for further support.

Are you working as a manager and struggling with the time puzzle? With the right digital tools, there are several smart ways to automize the work and save time. Our HR system Flex HRM Employee, for example, gives you a complete digital toolbox for both practical and strategic HR work. So that you can spend less time with administration and more time on what really makes a difference – for example, having that important conversation with your colleague. Do you want to know more? Please get in touch with us or sign up for one of our free webinars (in Swedish).

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