Prepping for Difficult Conversations

Have you ever dreaded having conversations with some of your employees? We’ve all had this experience and unless it happens frequently, you’re probably not an expert in handling these.

Challenging conversations run the gamut from delivering difficult feedback to firing someone. When you aren’t comfortable conveying a difficult message, it’s likely that your delivery of the message will reflect that discomfort.

Think objectively about what you want to say, and don’t obsess over it. Once you know you need to have the conversation, make sure it happens within a reasonable amount of time. Here are some other tips to consider:

Don’t be emotional. If you’re emotional, it’s likely to trigger emotions in the other person. If you feel emotional, wait until you can communicate objectively.

Make sure your message is clear. Don’t use this as an opportunity to dump everything on someone who is struggling. When you zero in on the core of what’s important, it will be much easier for the employee to hear you.

“It’s not personal”. This is one of the expressions that some people use when they have difficult discussions. Don’t say this. It’s wrong because to the other person, it is personal, and you just sound like a jerk when you say it.

Express empathy. As you prepare for the conversation, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Choose language that shows that you understand her and be empathetic when you speak.

Gradations. Don’t pounce on someone for every little thing he does wrong. Some managers yell about anything and everything. Over time, this just becomes noise to the employee.

Timing. Be judicious about when you’re going to have challenging conversations. For example, be sensitive if you know the employee is struggling with something else.

One thing that these suggestions have in common is preparation. Prepare what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Choose an optimal time. Be empathetic. Choose your words and intonation carefully and you’ll succeed in making something potentially difficult into a less nerve-wracking encounter.

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