Business Tips: How to Have Difficult Conversations

POSTED: January 28, 2015 BY: CATEGORY:

If you’re running a business or managing employees at one stage or another you’re going to have to have a hard conversation. Whether it’s talking to someone about their attitude, dismissing an employee or a delivering a less than fabulous performance review knowing that you have to have a delicate discussion with someone can be anxiety inducing for even the most confident people.

As Next Marketing expands and I take on more staff, I’m finding that I have to have more of these difficult conversations. It’s never enjoyable but I am trying to get better at them. Over the last little while I have come up with a few strategies that seem to help and I thought I would share them here.

Dismissing employees

This is one of the hardest things for anyone to face, especially when you know the person you are talking to is likely to get emotional and upset. Jotting down the main points of the conversation beforehand and keeping them in front of you can help you stay on track.

Although maintaining eye contact is usually considered positive in most interactions, too much direct eye contact can be confronting in this type of conversation. It may be better to create a visual or some other document that can be placed between you and that you can both look at instead.

I have also experimented with having an independent third person in the room with me during conversations such as these and that seems to work as well.

Telling someone they are underperforming

Underperformance issues can affect an entire organisation and if they go unchecked can compound and lead to bigger problems. Although it can be difficult, it’s important to address underperformance issues quickly before they become ingrained in the overall organisational culture. One key thing that I’ve found helpful when talking to someone about their performance is to try to identify the tasks that are problematic rather than talking in terms of personality traits.

The problem with discussing personality traits like ‘dedicated,’ or ‘co-operative’ is that these words often mean different things to different people, which can cause confusion and misunderstandings. Instead try to focus on specific tasks which have been undesirable or not lead to the right outcome.

Talking to someone about their attitude

One reason this type of conversation is so hard is that it is very difficult not to make it personal. Try to start by emphasising the more positive aspects of your employee’s personality before bringing the conversation around to the more negative side. Most negative traits do have a positive element, for example arrogant people are often confident, and lazy people may be relaxed. Trying to broach the topic as positively as possible can help reduce defensiveness and help you avoid appearing overly critical.

As a leader it’s important to face up to the difficult conversations. Although I dread them to a certain extent, I am finding that with practice they do get easier and the rewards are a more motivated and engaged team and better business results in the long term.

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#Jo Macdermott - turning good businesses into great businesses is all in a day’s work for marketing consultant, Jo Macdermott. Jo leads Next Marketing, a multiple award winning business, which she has grown from scratch. Jo is commercial, empathetic and always has her eye on the end game.