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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees

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HowToHaveDifficultConversationsAtWorkLike it or not, the workplace is home to a number of difficult conversations. Discussing topics such as pay and benefits, inappropriate behavior, underperforming work can be uncomfortable, and this is what separates great managers from ineffective ones. 


Managers are coaches, and they have to take challenging conversations head on to raise employee engagement. Have your managers keep these areas in mind as they consider how to have a difficult conversation at work.


Download: Performance Manifesto: 5 Manager Lessons for Performance Conversations 


1. Provide Guidance.


As the leader of this conversation, it's the manger's job to establish the ground rules for the meeting. Before you meet to talk, explain what you would like to discuss and what information you are looking for. After the fact, provide direct feedback to employees and give them actionable next steps. While the feedback is still valuable, the employee can learn how to share it in a way that better aligns with your organization’s code of conduct.


2. Build a Foundation of Trust and Safety.


Having difficult conversations requires a trusting culture. If employees fear that sharing their thoughts has the potential to come with professional, financial, social, physical, or emotional risks, then they are unlikely to engage in the vulnerability necessary to have this difficult conversation.


When employees know they’re safe to share their thoughts (respectfully) without fear of punishment, it gives them a figurative green light. Foster a safe space for sensitive conversation by paying attention to the way you react to feedback and ideas. If employees witness leaders shutting employees down or retaliating when they come to you with honesty, don’t expect them to share in the future. 


3. Be Open and Supportive of Ideas.


Once you bring up the topic at hand, you must listen to your employee. When having these difficult conversations, manager should have two goals:

  1. Educate the employee about the situation
  2. Solicit any ideas to solve the problem now or in the future; a manager should never begin with the goal of reprimanding an employee.
Ask your employees for their thoughts on the situation, and be supportive of incomplete thoughts or ideas that can be fleshed-out. Be open to critique of your own ideas, and show your vulnerability by admitting when you’re wrong or unsure.


4. Respond.


It’s not enough to simply receive opinions and hear the voice of employees. The most important thing you can do is respond. Employees need to see the impact of that conversation. If you don’t respond with action or answers, employees will begin to realize that you conduct those difficult meetings just to check a box.


Close the loop by illustrating how employee feedback is used, recognizing great ideas or critical times employees spoke up. On the flip side, if employees’ ideas or feedback isn’t put into place, acknowledge what was said and explain why it won’t be used, so they know they were heard.


Part of a manager's job is having difficult conversations, but we want to help them being as painless and productive as possible. For more tips, download our free ebook, Performance Manifesto: 5 Manager Lessons for Performance Conversations.


Performance Manifesto: 5 Manager Lessons for Engaging Performance Conversations



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