If you have to deal with difficult discussions, challenging chats or tricky talks at work, you may be wondering how best to approach them. Naturally, I call these “Savvy Conversations”. Whatever you call them, these are the conversations we sometimes worry about or we bury our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not needed. We usually put them off until we’ve no choice but to tackle them. But we’re then faced with biting the bullet at the most inconvenient time and when we are least prepared.
My advice (that I also try to follow myself of course!) is not to let fear of raising a minor problem turn into a major issue!
If you’re a people manager, no matter how great your staff, at some point I’m sure you’ll have to have one of these potentially difficult discussions:
- Are you concerned about someone’s performance?
- Could someone do more on their own initiative?
- Did something go horribly wrong?
- Are their customer care skills lacking?
- Do they seem demotivated?
- Are they not trying hard enough or not pulling their weight?
- Perhaps you’re concerned they’ll cause tension between team members?
- Do they meet their agreed targets?
- Have you had complaints from clients?
Knowing how to deal with difficult discussions is a core skill we can all develop. Your conversations will go much more successfully (and you’ll be far more confident dealing with them), if you consider using my:
Top Ten Tactics for Tricky Talks
1 DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY
Be prepared. Decide before you start what you’d like the outcome to be. What are the key points you want to make?
What do you want to get out of the conversation? What actions or solutions are you looking to achieve?
If the outcome is flexible, decide in advance what you’re prepared to do and/or give. For extra confidence, write it down first so you remember and stay on track.
2 DECIDE WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO SAY IT
Make sure you have a private space where you won’t be interrupted and you won’t be overheard. If working from home, arrange a time you can both give the conversation your full attention without interruptions.
3 DECIDE HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAY IT
Start by setting the scene in a calm and pleasant way. Some small talk is OK but don’t waffle, it’s better to get straight to the point of the discussion.
4 SAY IT CLEARLY AND SPECIFICALLY
You don’t need to give unnecessary explanations or lengthy excuses and apologies. You can be assertively friendly! If you do decide to give an explanation keep it short and simple. Leave it at that. Don’t be afraid of an uncomfortable silence if necessary.
5 SUPPORT WHAT YOU SAY BY HOW YOU SAY IT
Be candid and straightforward but without being patronizing, rude or coming across angry. Keep your emotions in check but don’t be cold. You stand the best chance of being heard if your statements are honest and to the point. You might think it is kinder or more gentle to hint at what you want but hints rarely work and will come back to haunt you! Say it with conviction as if you really mean it.
6 YOUR BODY LANGUAGE SHOULD SUPPORT THE MESSAGE
Try to keep open and positive body language but don’t be too relaxed. Maintain appropriate eye contact (not too much, not too little) and try to be perceptive of the other person’s body language too.
7 LISTEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE OTHER PERSON’S FEELINGS
Give them the opportunity to express their point of view. Showing them that you can see their point of view is validating for them. They are more likely to listen and take on board what you have to say if you show empathy.
8 DO NOT BE MANIPULATED OR SIDETRACKED
Stick to it – So you said clearly what you want to happen. The other person may try to deflect you or manipulate you. It can sometimes be powerful to repeat the same statement again. Don’t get into an argument or start to justify yourself through guilt. You may need to repeat your message before it is really heard.
9 BE CLEAR ABOUT THE OUTCOMES AND FOLLOW UP
What have you agreed? Are your expectations clear? Is there any support or input you need to give? Do you need to have a follow-up discussion? If so, when will that take place and why is a follow-up needed?
10 AIM FOR A WIN-WIN
Try for a reasonable compromise if there is one. You should both leave the conversation in a positive frame of mind wherever possible.
Remember, when thinking about how to deal with difficult discussions it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. More on that in future posts!
Please get in touch if you would like to chat this through some more.