How to have a difficult conversation

Written by Nick Gold on 29 August 2017

One of the essential parts of being a good leader is not only sharing in the highs of the business, but also managing the lows. A big element of this is having difficult conversations with your employees. Often disagreements can arise, but if these are left unchecked, then problems will snowball into unmanageable issues.

This is why I have put together a guide to having a difficult conversation.

First, always attempt to turn a difficult conversation into a successful interaction. The best way to do this is to structure how you would like the conversation to flow. Before entering the discussion, outline your goals and intentions for the final outcome.

With these in mind, you can then steer the direction of the chat. If things begin to go off course, show your employee that you are listening to their concerns, note them down, then go back to the topic at hand. The talk needs to be kept on track or the issue may never be properly addressed, and your authority as a leader can easily become undermined.

Outline that while currently there is a problem, there is a positive course of action which can be taken to reach a solution.

Second, while you may need to broach some uncomfortable topics, it is important not to deliver this news in an entirely negative way. Outline that while currently there is a problem, there is a positive course of action which can be taken to reach a solution.

Be aware of your body language and the location of the chat. When possible, remain at the same eye-level, so your employee does not feel overwhelmed by an intimidating posture. Keep your body language relaxed and your tone measured to avoid unsettling your employee.

Ideally, take the employee out of the office and ensure that the conversation happens towards the end of the day. This means that the person at hand won’t feel worried about other employees overhearing what is being said. It also means that they won’t feel that they have to come back into the office and finish a day’s work when they need some time to process the information.


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When you have delivered the news, be comfortable with the silence. It is important to let your employee digest what has been said and to avoid waffling to fill the silence. Letting there be a pause in conversation will also help to calm the other party and allow them feel that interaction isn’t going to be rushed.

Finally, it is important to schedule a ‘follow-up’ conversation in which you will reflect on the initial issues and see if a solution has been achieved. During the first conversation, it is important to discuss a step-by-step process that you will both put into place to achieve the course of action.

This will ensure both the employer and employee are on the same page, and that you have something to refer to if the same problems are still arising. 

 

About the author

Nick Gold is managing director of market-leading speaker bureau and consultancy, Speakers Corner

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