Viewpoint – Holding Difficult Conversations

Viewpoint – Holding Difficult Conversations

  • Date: Thursday 7th January 2016

During our Directors’ updates this quarter, we focus on how to hold difficult conversations effectively and efficiently and without alienating your workforce.

Naturally, most of us try to avoid having these conversations, because we don’t want to upset people, be the ‘bad guy’ or because we are apprehensive about potential fall-outs and unexpected reactions.

Considering that most of us are brought up being told not to say anything at all if we have nothing nice to say, it is unsurprising to hear that many employers hope that issues will simply go away without them having to interfere. Speaking from experience though, they rarely do. In fact most challenges escalate if they are not addressed immediately and organisational performance will continue to be affected if issue remain unsolved.

An ever increasing minefield of legal implications adds to fears of not handling a difficult conversation appropriately and many employers now feel that they can’t say anything without running the risk of being sued.

However, it is important that leaders know their rights as well as their responsibilities and don’t shy away from hands-on people management. 

1)     Pick the right moment!

On a Friday afternoon? In the middle of a busy project? Between two jobs in a corridor? Clearly, picking the right place and time can make all the difference. Ask your employee “Is this a good time?” and set the scene appropriately.

2)     Is the issue connected with potential discrimination?

If the subject is related to any of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 or an internal grievances or complaint, you need to ensure that you have researched the facts before having a conversation. Ensuring that what you are going to say will not project discrimination or prejudice is vital not only from a legal but also from a moral perspective. If in doubt, get advice beforehand!

3)     What are my objectives?

Remind yourself why you are holding the conversation. What is the behaviour change you are trying to achieve? What is the ideal outcome from your perspective? How can you turn these expectations into a SMART objective? Holding a difficult conversation without a clear objective can be demoralising and counter-productive. 

4)     LISTEN and don’t over-rate initial reactions.

Nobody likes criticism so expect tears, anger and finger-pointing. Good active listening techniques and an appreciation for human nature can help you understand the core issue and make it easier to find a Win-Win solution.

If you would like to learn more about how to hold a difficult conversation, call us to book your place on our ‘Overcoming Challenges’ course, which runs again in April 2016.


Source: Manuela Grossmann - SSG

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