16 Ways To Make Tough Workplace Conversations More Constructive

16 Ways To Make Tough Workplace Conversations More Constructive

Written by Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council (including Manex President & CEO Gene Russell)

Reposted with Permission — Originally on Forbes.com

Whether you’re a department head or the CEO of a company, your role as a leader occasionally involves having tough conversations with employees, clients and other stakeholders. How you handle those discussions will impact how the rest of the organization sees you. The key is to make these talks as productive and mutually beneficial as possible, which can be challenging if you don’t approach them the right way.

According to a recent study following up on past research that had found managers and employees were equally likely to avoid a difficult conversation at work, the numbers haven’t budged over the past decade. Even though businesses have poured billions of dollars into developing their people, more than 70% of the professionals surveyed still have a strong aversion to tough conversations in the workplace 10 years later.

What is the best way for a business leader to approach a discussion about a sensitive topic? Below, 16 members of Forbes Coaches Council provide valuable suggestions and advice to help you make those difficult conversations less intimidating and more constructive.

1. Process Your Own Opinions First

First and foremost, process your own upset, opinions, beliefs and positions before entering the conversation. Set an intention for the way you want to show up in the conversation and the outcome you’d like to experience, and share that at the start of the conversation. Ask questions and remain curious. Apply the Socratic method. Reflect back what you hear the other person saying so they feel heard. Practice. – Gwen Dittmar, Gwen Dittmar Consulting, Inc

2. Check Your Bias

Check your bias and approach the conversation with empathy and respect. We all view situations through our personal lenses. When handling difficult conversations, assume positive intent and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Flip the script and try to put yourself in his or her shoes. In doing so, you are more likely to have a productive discussion. – Juliette Mayers, Inspiration Zone LLC

3. Address The Issue Early On

Successfully navigating difficult conversations is a skill that is more important now than ever before. The most important thing is to address the issue early on. The longer we wait, the harder it can seem to start the conversation, and the consequences can feel larger. By leaning in right away, we can explore things more safely and effectively. – Craig Dowden, Craig Dowden & Associates

4. Ensure Always-On Transparency

Always-on transparency is key. You need experience and communication skills tailored to the audience. A leader needs to be able to say the same thing very differently to a line worker, a midlevel worker, a peer and his or her boss or board, in their language and using their knowledge base. The board wants strategy and financials, while the line worker is job-focused. Everyone must feel a part of the solution. – Gene Russell, Manex Consulting

5. Tailor Your Approach To The Individual

The leader’s approach should be specific to the individual she is communicating with. This cannot be a one-size-fits-all response. Where the person is at physically, emotionally and mentally needs to be considered. Difficult conversations land best when they focus on the behavior or issue, not the person, and the impact it had on others. Then, there should be a discussion around the way forward. – Linda Aiyer, InfinitU Consulting

6. Ground The Conversation In Mutual Respect

Respect is key. To make any challenging conversation successful, the golden rule is to be guided by respect toward the self and toward the other. Respecting the self will not allow you to be taken advantage of, while respecting the other will help you be more empathetic and select just the right words to keep the relationship healthy. – Agata Dulnik, Ph.D., Global Leadership Experts

7. Be Honest And Authentic

Difficult conversations are best handled with transparency and authenticity. Put up the facts, and be honest. People appreciate honesty. Exhibit courage, and let the focus be on the problem and not on people. Be open to possible solutions, and if you could, share how today can contribute to tomorrow—it will go a long way. – Jimmy Jain, Square Sequel Consulting

8. Know Your Audience’s Mindset

You must know your audience! I am not just speaking about employee versus manager. It’s crucial to know their personality and mindset. If it is difficult for you, it is going to be difficult for them. This will help you determine your tone, what language to use and more. Also, please remember that communication is less about the words you say and more about your tone and delivery. – Kurt Faustin, Kurt Faustin

9. Frame An Outcome-Oriented Perspective

Framing and reframing the need to have the conversation is key to begin with. Frame it from an outcome-oriented perspective. Frame what has happened, who it has affected or could affect, and develop a go-forward plan that includes all parties in the conversation. Circling the conversation around what “right” looks like in your workplace culture, and using that lens to frame the conversation, is key as well. – Shelley Smith, Premier Rapport

10. Make Sure You’re Both Open

When having a difficult conversation, you first have to make sure the person is open and in the right frame of mind to participate in a difficult conversation. Second, you must stick to the facts and behaviors. You must stay away from emotions and opinions. Third, be sure to ask questions and not give directions. Make sure you are actively listening to what the person is saying. – Jay Wolf, Jay Wolf Consulting LLC

11. Focus On Context And Impact

When giving feedback in a difficult conversation, I encourage leaders to focus on the behavior and not the person. The more specifically you can identify the behavior, the context and the impact, the greater the possibility that the recipient will take the feedback and implement change in a positive, meaningful way. – Dan Ryan, ryan partners

12. Understand Your Own Emotions

Conversations are difficult when we experience or anticipate the emotional content. Understand your own emotions before the conversation. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What has me feeling that way? How might I acknowledge this and effectively communicate?” During the conversation, allow, acknowledge and humanize emotions; don’t ignore or try to fix them (yours or theirs). Also, be clear on the content and purpose of the conversation. – Jennifer Clevidence, J. Clevidence Co.

13. Don’t Give In To Anger

In a meeting or conversation, once a word or comment is spoken, it can’t be taken back. You say it; you own it. Emotions can be difficult to manage when an interaction gets tense. In these situations, it is rarely helpful to react in anger when dealing with a client, boss or team member. Instead, take a breath, step away for a moment, and return when you are calmer and more composed. – G. Riley Mills, Pinnacle Performance Company

14. Address One Challenge At A Time

A key aspect to having a difficult conversation is knowing what you would like to get out of the conversation. The conversation should be focused on a single goal, which means not bringing in everything else that could also be addressed. Once you increase your proficiency in having difficult conversations, you will be able to address multiple challenges in a single conversation. – Jennifer WisdomWisdom Consulting

15. Listen From A Place Of Caring

Begin with deeply listening and understanding the other side of the conversation. Listen and understand from their point of view. Then, begin the conversation from a place of caring. Show what you care about and then express your concerns. Have everyone in the conversation do the same thing. Distinguish different perspectives, look at all the facts, and find possible solutions. – Mitchell Simon, Simon Leadership Alliance

16. Always Start With Something Positive

Always start with something positive such as, “How you approach X is fantastic. What might be standing in your way is Y.” Give them something to build on. In conversations that are what I call “course-correcting,” partner with them to help them succeed rather than knock them down. Start off with what you’re asking for, not what they’re failing to give, and help them meet you halfway. – Donna Karlin, No Ceiling, Just Sky™ Institute

2020-09-25T18:43:13+00:00
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