Creating a return to work plan that works for all employees

Mastering difficult conversations at work

We need to talk. 4 simple words. Yet they are enough to make the best of us nervous.

Mastering difficult conversations at work can be difficult, how often have we avoided talking to someone simply because we do not want a difficult conversation? Not just in our personal lives, but professional life as well. Although in the latter, difficult conversations may be essential in certain situations. For example, if someone is consistently performing below average, then they need to be brought back on track. It is their manager’s (as well as teammates’ in some cases) responsibility to find out the root cause behind the problem.

While it may not be a pleasant task, it certainly cannot be avoided. Fortunately, there are certain steps that you can take and be prepared for difficult conversations.

Be objective:

The very first thing that you should do is to control your emotions.

You want to have a meaningful conversation with the other person. Not a confrontation, as the other person might expect or rather prefer. By controlling your emotions and speaking objectively, you will be better able to convey the point of that meeting. If you too get angry, you could end up saying things in the heat of the moment that could have worse repercussions.

Gather information:

Gather as much information as possible and prepare yourself for the conversation. When you have all the information in front of you, it gets easier to answer the other person’s questions. The more factual your responses, the more control you have over the conversation.

Conversely, if you fumble for clarification, the other person may assume that they have scored a point against you. They may even believe that their argument is valid and that you are unable to answer their questions for the same reason.

Be empathetic:

At the end of the day, we are all on the same team. So the meeting should not be about proving who’s right or wrong.

Instead look at this as a chance for you to find out the reason behind possibly the employee’s poor performance as well as behavior, or their grievances towards management. Step in their shoes for a minute and think about how you can help them overcome challenges that prevent them from achieving their goals, how you can help them be happier at their job, or from the employee’s perspective, why the management has been unable to meet up to expectations.

Let them know that you are on their side. They will appreciate all the support that they can get to improve their performance and management will take note of the fact that you stood behind them in a difficult moment.

Listen and assess:

In the pursuit of mastering difficult conversations at work, It is important for HR and business leaders to remember that, at this stage, the most beneficial thing you can do is just listen. Take a step back and really listen to the feedback your employees are sharing about their challenges and concerns. In this meeting, ask what they need and what the organization could be doing differently to provide a better experience. The goal is to build an understanding of what is needed right now rather than answer questions or provide solutions. You may need to seek outside help to get what your employees need and that’s OK.

Addressing an uncomfortable conversation can be challenging, but having these tough talks ultimately leads to growth on your team. By approaching sensitive subjects with empathy and care, you can make a difficult discussion productive, and come to a positive outcome.

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