As Employers and Managers, we all can dread having difficult conversations and there are occasions when it can just go wrong, especially when you haven’t planned what you want to say. I can recall occasions when I have left meetings feeling like I’m the worst person alive and that’s not a nice feeling. I have been lucky that along the way by receiving some excellent training and seeing some great Managers handle difficult meetings, I’ve picked some useful tips up.
So what is a difficult conversation? From a Management perspective, it’s where you’re dealing with particularly sensitive emotions and knowledge. It can range from poor performance and attendance to behaviour issues, to redundancy, to changing working hours and more. It is a 1-2-1 meeting.
If you spot an issue or problem, then don’t leave it. Take the time to deal with it before it escalates and grows out of proportion. You will feel better for handling the issue at the right time. From personal experience, there is usually a reason a person is behaving a certain way and by having the conversation you can uncover and support the person to help them and help the business.
So points I’ve picked up along the way:
P – Plan the meeting with extra care, especially knowing it’s going to be a difficult conversation. Being prepared, immediately makes you feel better and not starting on the back foot. Arrange the chairs in the meeting room so they are not across a desk but angles to each other, creating a listening approach. If you can, supply a drink as this can make the meeting seem more relaxed and informal.
O – What objectives do you want to achieve in the meeting? I recall a conversation where I wanted the Manager to achieve the deadlines given for various tasks (Results wanted). I broke this into objectives:
• To understand what was stopping the Manager hitting the deadlines?
• To share what the repercussions were when deadlines were missed?
• To identify what support and help the Manager needed to achieve the deadline goals?
• To establish whether there were any other issues that were affecting work?
• What specific support could I and the team give the Manager?
• Were there any development needs?
O – Once the objective questions had been answered, did this highlight any obstacles that needed dealing with. In one case I dealt with, the person had caring responsibilities and this was impinging on their timings at work so we had to find a workaround to resolve their issue. Remember to explore these with the person.
R – What results do you want to obtain? Write this down for your information and put what the ultimate result would be and what a compromise could be. We all need to know what we are aiming for and keeping it in mind helps set the direction of the conversation.
C – The best meetings work when you can coach the interviewee to come to their own answers. They then take the responsibility for the actions needed. Use open questioning but don’t use loaded questions as this can create tensions and put the participant in a hostile mode. I’ve seen this happen and the people have come out of the meeting leaving a strained atmosphere and nothing resolved.
A – The best outcomes have been seen from Managers who appear quite gentle in their approach, who don’t treat the meeting as if it should be hurried through and who use silence to give the participant time to think and respond to their questions. Silence can seem awkward but I’ve seen it work on many occasion to get the interviewee time to open up. It also lets the messages sink in. If, as Managers, we jump into those silences we can end up putting words into the person’s mouth. We then never get to the bottom of the problem. Also, use active listening – so non-verbal body language to enhance what you are saying and what you are hearing.
However, do realise, that not all people can be coached. I recall going through coaching training and the mentor came into the meeting with me. The staff member completely ignored all attempts at coaching and I had to take an authoritarian approach instead. I came out of that meeting feeling I had failed but as the mentor explained there will always be a small percentage who fail to respond to coaching and then you have to change your approach.
S – At the end of the meeting encourage the participant to summarise what the actions are and who owns them. By getting the person to acknowledge and repeat the actions, it enforces the message into their mind and makes it more likely the actions will happen.
E – Remember to be emotionally intuitive with the person and as the Manager to use your emotional Intelligence. It can take months and years to build connections and if the meeting is handled the wrong way then the working relationship can be destroyed very quickly. The last thing you want to do is create a stone wall between the two of you. Remember to treat the person with respect and retain the person’s pride
I Hope you don’t have to hold many difficult conversations but if you do then these tips help. If you would like further support then do contact The People Mentor.