Even the most seasoned leaders struggle with the notion of having difficult conversations with their team members. But they are necessary if you want to build a high performing team.
The number one job of a leader is to bring out the best in others. Telling people things they don’t want to hear is par for the course because that’s how they learn.
Ask yourself what will happen if I don’t have this conversation? What opportunity for growth are you taking away from the other person by procrastinating? How will ignoring the problem affect the rest of the team and how will it reflect on you as a leader?
You’ve got to rip the band-aid off and get it done. Here are eight principles to follow to ensure challenging conversations are effective and constructive. Preparation is key. It will help you structure the conversation and stay on track. You’ll also feel much more confident and relaxed.
1. Talk, don’t write
Difficult conversations should be had verbally, not via email or SMS. Emails and SMSs can be misunderstood and can escalate quickly.
2. Sooner rather than later
It’s always best to address issues as soon as they arise, while the circumstances are still fresh in everyone’s mind. If you leave it for days or weeks after the fact, the conversation will only get harder to have, and you’ll lose sleep unnecessarily. Rip the band-aid off.
3. Don’t beat around the bush
Decide on the purpose of the conversation. Clearly state this purpose from the very beginning of the meeting. Avoid dancing around the topic. Just come right out and say it.
There are three overarching objectives for most difficult conversations.
- Create awareness of the problem
- Establish a willingness to own the problem
- Develop an action plan that leads to change
Depending on the person, and the complexity of the issue, you may not achieve all three in one conversation. However, they need to happen in chronological order.
4. Be clear and concise
The meaning of everything thing you say needs to be transparent and not open for interpretation. Find the simplest, most direct way to say what needs to be said.
5. Stick to the facts and give examples
Facts and examples help take the emotion out of the situation because they can be hard to argue. If you’re providing feedback on something you’ve observed, give concrete examples.
6. Stay calm
Try to stay calm, regardless of how they react. You don’t want to say something you’ll regret in the heat of the moment.
You only know your side of the story. They are more likely to be open and honest with you if you genuinely, and empathetically, listen to their point of view. Try to get to the bottom of the real problem to truly understand what’s going on with the person’s situation.
8. Be objective
Try not to let your emotions, or any personal prejudices, get in the way of establishing the facts. If the conversation gets emotional, heated or seems to be going nowhere, bring it back to the facts and the specific examples.
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