Difficult conversations are things that most of us would prefer to avoid, and for some of us that avoidance is costing us and our teams. A CPP study indicated that American workers spend on average 2.8 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict and that nearly 90% of employees have seen a workplace conflict escalate, and that 9% have seen the conflicts result in project failure.
Whether we like it or not, part of our responsibility as leaders is to diffuse workplace conflicts and manage performance problems. The good news is that with preparation, we can increase the chances that the difficult conversations that we need to have will be successful. Here are six steps.
- Make sure that you understand the issue. You need to articulate the the problem clearly as you see it in a few sentences.
- Understand your desired outcome for the conversation. Be clear in your mind as to what you want for the other person to do, and how you want for them to feel when the conversation is over.
- Develop a strategy for the conversation. How will you introduce the topic? Knowing the other person, how do you expect that it will go? This should not be scripted beyond your introduction because you cannot anticipate the other person’s responses.
- Be open to the idea that you may not have perfect knowledge of the situation and think of the conversation as just that - a two-way conversation. Active listening is very important because you want for the person to feel heard. You have a working relationship with this person that you want to preserve. You know what you want out of the situation, but you may receive new information during the conversation that may cause you to alter your strategy.
- Choose the time and place for your conversation. It should be a place where you will not be interrupted, and private. Depending on the situation, having the conversation with you seated at your desk may appear to be intimidating, so a conference room may be a better option. I prefer not to have difficult conversations on Friday afternoons because if there is any follow up (especially in emotionally charged situations), having two days of forced inactivity is not helpful.
- Introduce the conversation directly and authentically. If it is not a performance appraisal, say that you want to talk about the particular situation and that you want to problem-solve.
Although preparation will not eliminate the discomfort you feel about the conversation, it will go a long way to increasing your chances of success. Remember, that these conversations are important - they are an important part of leadership. So pat yourself on the back for recognizing that you need to do this difficult task and having the courage to do it.
QUESTION: What’s your advice for making a difficult conversation successful?