It’s first thing on a Monday morning and there is already an assault of complaints coming in: Jim hasn’t completed last week’s work; Mary misprinted all the brochures; and worst of all, the staff kitchen is completely unstocked.  Understandably, your first instinct may be to go and give everyone a piece of your mind.  However, it’s really important in these scenarios to know how to delicately, yet effectively, deal with workplace issues, in a way that solves your issues but also doesn’t anger your employees – after all, unhappy workers are inefficient ones. Knowing how to have challenging conversations can lead to attendance, performance and productivity increasing.

If you currently feel ill-equipped for this, fear not, as we have some useful advice for you below.

What is a challenging conversation? 

A challenging conversation is any conversation where the primary subject matter may evoke strong, potentially unpredictable, or uncontrollable emotions. Due to this, it’s essential to bring these discussions up in a sensitive manner.

Some examples of challenging conversation topics could be:

  • Underperforming at work
  • Dealing with office disputes/investigating grievances
  • Handling clashing personalities
  • Comforting employees after bad news, e.g. if they are about to be made redundant
  • Addressing personal problems that may be affecting work performance.

These sorts of conversations are best had in a more quiet, intimate environment, usually one-on-one, to prevent the employee feeling publicly embarrassed.

Why have a challenging conversation?

From a surface level, it may seem easier to let small mistakes go unmentioned, however, in the long-term it can have some detrimental effects.  For example, your employee will carry on believing that there is no problem and continue to harm the productivity of your company – after all, if they’re not told, how will they know they’re doing anything wrong!  It also denies your employee the opportunity to fix their errors and improve, for if they don’t put things right (and you say nothing) this could set a bad example to everybody else and either damage morale or make everyone on the team think that this form of behaviour is acceptable.

Tips on how to manage a challenge conversation:

  • Tackle the issue the moment you spot it. Don’t wait for it to fester and spiral out of control before you have a word.  If you wait, the problem will only become more complicated and deep-rooted, making your job even harder.
  • Talk in a quiet place, just you and whoever is directly involved. You don’t want your employee to feel as though they are being made a public spectacle of – this will help minimise any feelings of embarrassment/disappointment/anger.
  • Have an open line of communication with your staff and team.  Where they will feel comfortable raising issues or concerns.
  • Listen to employee representatives to gauge how your staff are reacting to the issue – this can help gauge the severity of your conversation
  • Have a clear plan for your conversation.  If you’re discussing a difficult topic there’s nothing worse than aimlessly talking around the issue and ultimately your employee having no idea what it is you are concerned about.  Have a clear idea of your purpose, for example “what’s the challenge at hand” and “how it can be resolved”.
  • Manage your own emotions.  Whilst these sorts of talks can definitely be distressing to both parties, as a figure of authority and calm.  It is vital to keep your cool even if your employee isn’t.
  • Stay open-minded!  Perhaps your staff has a legitimate reason for a dip in performance recently, such as troubling personal issues (maybe they’re going through a divorce or a family member has passed away).  Give them a chance to explain their side of the story and present yours as well, and from there a mutual, amicable solution can be found.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.

One Reply to “Challenging conversations and how to manage them”

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