Knowing what to say at the right time can help nip conflicts and other issues in the bud. We all know that the sensible thing to do is to get together as soon as possible and talk through the problem.That way, you can share perspectives on what has happened, clarify any misunderstandings and decide what to do before the situation gets worse.
But we’re not always sensible in these situations and it can be a real struggle to have these conversations and for them play out successfully. Here are some tips on how to have tough conversations at work:
The main barriers
There tends to be three main barriers that prevents a productive conversation from happening.
Lack of confidence: There are many things that can knock your confidence. These include: getting hurt; hurting the other person; not being understood; losing control; and/or making things worse. As a result, you could procrastinate or withdraw, and hope that the problem will go away.
Lack of skill: Often there is a lack of skills that can enable you to carry out the conversation successfully. These include self-awareness, self-control and effective communication strategies. The good news is that through conflict management training and skills practice, you can learn to listen with empathy and communicate effectively even in the most difficult situation.
Lack of time: It takes time to build the skills and confidence to have tough conversations well, and it takes time to have the conversation itself.
Having the conversation
Whenever a situation flares up, the first step is to decide about whether to have the conversation or not. It can help to consider what you stand to gain or lose by having the conversation and how other employees will be affected by your decision.
If you decide to go ahead, prepare for the conversation with questions such as:
What do you want to express and how can you best do this?
What do you want to understand from the other person and how should you ask them?
Finally, you need to set up the conversation. Here again, there are many factors to consider, such as how should you raise the topic with the other person and where should you have the conversation and when?
During the conversation there are a number of handy hints for conducting it as smoothly and productively as possible. Remember that the way you speak and act at the outset will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Try to express yourself without casting blame. As well as the words you use, be aware of your facial expressions and body language.
Share your reason for having the conversation and let them know it’s taking place in order to make things better, not worse. If your attitude is one of openness and curiosity towards the other person, this will be reflected through the way you speak and act.
After the conversation
There are things you can do to ease the discomfort that may follow a tough conversation and extend the opportunities for learning and change. For instance, you can get in touch with the employee to thank them for the conversation. It’s also a good idea to reflect on what you have learnt, and what you can do to manage conflict better in the future. No two conversations are ever the same so look at all of them as a way of gaining experience.
Brave conversations are important. They are a way to humanise the workplace, and they help to build a culture which values people as people, not just as human resources.
The key is to act quickly. Dragging things out could have a serious impact on the rest of your workforce and even your own health and wellbeing.
If you’re having problems with staff and you don’t know what to do for the best, get in touch for a confidential chat. We can help you to understand your options and we may be able to guide you right through the process of deciding which route is best for you.