How To Cope With Tough Conversations In The Workplace

tough convo at workWe can all agree, the job market is pretty dire these days, and as the financial crisis continues, there are more and more difficult conversations that managers need to have. However, if these are handled badly, these tough conversations can affect corporate wellness, causing further discord, stress and misunderstandings, so how do you improve your skills in this area?

First, let’s look at the unpleasant conversations you may need to have with your employees, customers, suppliers and stockholders. You might need to tell an employee that they need to improve their performance if they wish to keep the job, or that you have to reduce their hours. You may have to tell a colleague that the board is losing confidence in their abilities, or tell a supplier that you want a discount, or cannot pay them right away. These are definitely difficult conversations to have, and you need the necessary skills to execute them.

Because these conversations aren’t fun for anyone, some people avoid the situation or the person altogether in the hopes that the problem will simply fly away, no confrontation necessary. As a manager, you may be tempted to hide behind emails, formal letters and written changes in policy to avoid risky dialogue where you can’t plan and edit what you say. However, these indirect tactics rarely work, so how can you develop the skills you need to initiate difficult conversations confidently?

Firstly, do trial runs so you can get feedback to improve how you handle these situations. You might think that you shouldn’t ask for help, but a colleague will benefit from the training as much as you and role-playing will help you to keep on track and not stray off into tangents and discussing abstract ideas. It might be a good idea to attend a structured workshop so you can understand the core principles and internalise the best practises of these conversations.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable admitting your difficulties in public just yet, try starting by reading a book. There are several useful ones, such as Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. Whatever you choose, surely it’s better to improve the odds with persistent practice than to wing it and hope that things miraculously work out. Your skills may decrease over time, as you (hopefully) don’t need to use them every day, so remember to refresh your training every now and then.

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