Difficult Conversations

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a manager say, “I wish I was able to get Jim or Sue to start or stop doing….”  Sound familiar?  Difficult conversations, by definition, are difficult, right?

Books and training programs have been written to teach us how to have these conversations, but, apparently, many of us still struggle having a difficult conversation with our employees.

We know we should have a candid conversation, but invariably, we put it off, as it’s uncomfortable and awkward, and quite frankly, we may be little bit scared to have it, and we’re just not good at it.

Some of us wait for annual performance review time to talk with our folks about our concerns, while others, are still waiting to somehow gain the courage to have their conversation.

In their book, ‘Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high’ by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Swisler’, “Crucial conversations lie all around us – all the time: from performance appraisals at work,  up to discussing problems over sexual intimacy. The skills we need in the boardroom are the same skills we need in the bedroom.”

I’ll bet I have your attention now.

The Benefits

They found benefits too.  “Communities that embraced the issues and discussed in open honest dialogue were ‘healthier’ than those who either tried to control or ignored them. Those who routinely failed in conducting successful crucial conversation had weaker immune systems than those who resolved their issues effectively.”

And let’s not forget that the most important benefit is that we’ve finally voiced our concerns.  While we may think employees should have some level of self-awareness, let’s be honest, they’re not mind readers.

Their ‘How To’

Patterson, et al.’s model has essentially 7 steps:

1)  Start with the heart (i.e., empathy and positive intent)

2)  Stay in dialogue

3)  Make it safe

4)  Don’t get hooked by emotion (or hook them)

5)  Agree on a mutual purpose

6)  Separate facts from story

7)  Agree on a clear action plan

They add, “If handled properly they create breakthroughs. If handled badly they can lead to breakdowns. Whole relationships can hang on how these are dealt with. And the reality is many people do not deal with them well – or at all. They live in either a sub-optimal state or hope the situation will resolve itself.”

Make Sure It’s Really A Conversation

Blogger ‘1,000 Ways To Be Fearless’, in his post, ‘Tip #100: How to Have a Difficult Conversation’, says “Make sure that to truly solve the problem, you are really communicating, really engaging with them.

You can do this by asking them questions such as:

“I apologise for this behaviour, what can I do in future to ensure this doesn’t happen again?”

“How do you feel we can work around this issue if it occurs again?”

This makes them an active and vested stakeholder in the conversation going well, and makes them more likely to want to come to a resolution. It also makes the other person feel as though they have some control and agency, making them more receptive and less likely to shut down.”

Douglas Stone’s ‘Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most’ says, “Simply by changing your own behavior, you gain at least some influence over the problem.”

So, if we take all of this advice, and plan, rehearse, and commit to making some changes in our own behavior, we should be ready to have our difficult conversation(s), right?  So let’s do it and not chicken out!

Good luck.

The HRmeister