5 Ways to Better Handle Difficult Conversations at Work

It would be great to be able to go through your entire working life without ever having a difficult conversation. Unfortunately, difficult discussions are part and parcel of the modern workplace. And if you want to improve a situation that you believe is bad, you will have to have difficult discussions.

So how do you start difficult conversations with people at work? Five business leaders tell us how they approach difficult topics with their team members.

  • Build trust quickly

    Mayank Goswami, assistant vice president at Travelex, explains that the techniques you use to handle a difficult conversation will depend on the situations you’re dealing with. Telling someone they’re about to lose their job is not the same as getting them used to a slight change in their role and responsibilities.

    However, people who manage other people will often have to deal with internal cultural issues, such as the result of a new initiative launched within the company.

    The trick is to allay people’s worries and make them feel more confident and assured. “People are afraid of something; let’s say it’s a technological change or a job change,” says Goswami. “I think it’s essential to understand what they really need and to help and support them in their transition to something you really want them to do.

    Once trust is established, one-on-one conversations – even if difficult – should become much easier. “You have to empathize, understand their concerns and fears. Answering those questions should be the first thing to do – it’s really the only thing to be interested in.”

  • Gently probe the difficulties

    Mary O’Callaghan, director of technology engagement at the British Heart Foundation, says the key to success is trying to let your interviewer engage with you on their own terms. According to her, most people know there is a problem in the workplace. Good managers find a way to raise the issue without causing a confrontation.

    “It’s very rare that someone is completely oblivious to the fact that there is something to improve.” By gently probing for potential issues, you may find that the person you’re talking to already knows there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

    “I usually start by asking someone what they think about something,” says O’Callaghan. “Because if I have noticed a problem, the person concerned probably has too – and they are not sure how to approach it. So I ask them what they think of the situation or if they have questions or concerns they would like to address.

    Of course, sometimes people need a little more encouragement to talk openly about a problem or challenge. When they do, don’t make them feel guilty. It’s not about blaming someone, it’s about saying, “It’s true, there is a problem, so what are we going to do about it? It’s then about finding out what we can do not have this problem anymore.

  • Be open and honest

    Bob Michael, chief data officer at DFS, says experience helps. As you get used to having difficult conversations, you’ll develop an approach that works for you and your conversation partner.

    For Bob Michael, this approach is generally about being as direct as possible. “I don’t try to upset people,” he says. “I just try to be open and honest and do whatever I can to help people along the way.”

    Michael says it has become easier to have difficult conversations as he has progressed in his career – and he gives advice to others who are moving into leadership positions. “Gain confidence, grow your network, get out of your comfort zone and put yourself in a good position,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily outgoing. I’m more on the side of things. But as you get older, you realize that it’s often easier to say things as you see them. I say things as you see them. what are”.

  • Regularly give generous feedback

    Adam Warne, CIO of River Island, says difficult conversations should never come as a surprise. Good managers make it clear, long before the one-on-one discussion, that something is wrong and improvement is needed.

    “If you walk into a room and suddenly have a conversation with someone about their performance, it will be a shock,” Mr Warne says. “On the other hand, if over the last three months you have had a series of conversations and each time you have said that the person needs to improve in certain areas, then this difficult conversation is not a surprise. “.

    Therefore, if you want to reduce the risk of having a difficult conversation with a co-worker, you need to make sure that you engage with people as regularly as possible. “I think the feedback needs to be generous enough and frequent enough,” Warne says. “By doing this, I think difficult conversations are never as difficult as you think.”

  • Leave a good impression

    Rajeswari Koppala, senior manager of DevOps at United Airlines, says it’s important to listen to everyone’s perspective, even if you’re about to have a tough conversation because you think the person is in the wrong. ‘error. “People love those who listen to them,” she says. “So listen to their point of view and start the conversation in a positive way. Even if you have to contradict someone, you have to start with something positive.”

    According to Ms Koppala, professionals can use techniques to ensure that the person they are having a difficult conversation with does not feel too exposed. “There’s an approach that I learned from my mentor, it’s the sandwich approach,” she says, explaining that it’s important to not just start the conversation with encouragement, but also end it. on a positive point”.

    “Start with something good, give all your criticism in the meantime, and end with something good,” she says. “That way the tough conversation is less tough because you started with something good and you ended with something good.”

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