4 Steps to Ease Difficult Conversations with Employees

August 13, 2013

Difficult ConversationsDifficult Conversations

How do you approach difficult conversations?

Do  you avoid them for as long as you can? Do you have an intermediary broach the topic for you? Do you use questions to gain entry? Do you come right out and say what you’re thinking?

If you’re uncertain how to have a difficult conversation or are simply looking for new approach, try these four steps.

Step 1: Ask, “How do you think you’re doing in your role?”

  • If your coworkers’ perspective is similar to yours, launch into inquiry about what they would suggest happens to change the result.
  • If they provide a contrary perspective, ask open-ended questions (not leading questions) to better understand their logic and beliefs.
  • If you don’t feel like you’re making headway, go to Step 2.

Step 2: Ask, “How do you think I would evaluate your performance?”

  • Oftentimes when you ask coworkers to change perspectives, they will gain clarity right away.
  • If this does not work, direct the conversation toward a particular project. You might ask, “How do you think I would evaluate your performance on developing that new customer-service survey?”
  • If you don’t feel like you’re making headway, go to Step 3.

Step 3: Pause. Give coworkers a moment to collect their thoughts.

  • Often employees will see that you are trying to surface something and will become curious. They might ask, “Why? How do you think I’m doing?”
  • They may not respond right away. It’s okay if the silence gets a little awkward. Sometimes that’s what it takes to prompt employees to open up. They need to know that it’s up to them to end the silence–that what you’re waiting for is important.
  • If your coworker not only doesn’t seize the invitation to speak, but seems to be getting irritated, sullen, or defensive, go to Step 4.

Step 4: Tell them how you view their performance.

  • Don’t let the issue(s) fester. It’s time to reveal your hand. Provide helpful suggestions that are actionable and will lead to improved performance, not a list of offenses.
  • Admit and express regret for any responsibility you might have had for the coworker’s poor performance (even if your responsibility is minimal), so that the coworker understands that we’re, all of us, works in progress.

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