Checklist to Manage Difficult Conversations Well

16 May 2016
Comments: 0
16 May 2016, Comments: 0

How to have difficult conversations

As L&D professionals, you need to ensure your managers have the communication skills and understanding to have a difficult conversation well, so that both parties come out of it feeling as positive as possible.

This might include conversations around performance, salary discussions or specific issues related to managing and leading others.

Here are our checklist to ensure these conversations go as well as possible:

The key is in planning and preparation
1. Be clear about what you want to achieve in the conversation. For example, is it behaviour change, agreement on a particular issue, or some sort of resubmission of work.
2. Consider what you plan to say and ensure you have objective and specific feedback or information
3. Ensure the outcome you want is specific and achievable
4. Think carefully about how the other person may feel about the conversation. If they are likely to feel uncomfortable about it what can you say to frame the conversation to minimise these feelings?

The start
1. Start with a safely statement if this is appropriate. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person – what might they think this conversation is about? Some people can mistakenly think that your feedback on one issue is actually much more than that and it calls into question lots of things they do.

If you feel this might be the case construct a statement that explains what this conversation is NOT about before stating what it is about. For example “I have been really pleased with your work ethic and focus (possible concerns in the other person’s mind) and just want to talk about one aspect of how you write the monthly reports that I think can really make a positive difference.”

Plan what you want to say in a difficult conversationDuring the conversation
2. Give objectives and specific feedback – take the emotion out and focus on the facts
3. Look for the positives. Remember many mistakes come from a genuine attempt to help or do good. If you can frame it this way it may help the other person to own the problem and be more positive about making changes
4. Give a clear message – resist the urge to wrap the message up in so much cotton wool that the other person doesn’t really hear the message that you want to give them
5. Listen to what the other person has to stay, and consider any new information and adjust your message accordingly
6. Look for signs of agreement or understanding. It is possible to be thinking so much about how you want the conversation to go that you don’t notice the impact on the other person. If you see signs of agreement move on, even if you haven’t covered everything you wanted to, otherwise it may appear as if you are labouring a point and the other person may feel unfairly berated or resentful
7. If possible, ask questions after making a point or giving feedback to encourage the other person to contribute. This is especially important in coming to an action plan – ideally this would be co-created with them.
8. Offer reassurance that the conversation will improve the situation, and focus on solutions rather than apportioning blame.

Don't make assumptions during difficult conversationsOther factors
1. Be aware of assumptions – these are dangerous. Try to ensure that you a) listen for facts, and b) report on facts
2. Avoid using subjective, judgemental or emotive language.

By focusing on these points you can reduce anxiety about the conversation and any concerns about how it may impact the working relationship going forward.

Do you have any other suggestions to add to our list?  If so please comment and let us know.

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