The ability to manage uncomfortable conversations has become an essential component of the success of any team member, manager, department, or company. Addressing those challenging talks may provide a temporary reprieve, but it can have lengthy implications for the company. This is really attributed to the fact that increased growth disagreements deplete resources, disrupt collaboration, and hinder innovative thinking in a business.
All leaders have difficult conversations at some point in time, whether it’s telling a team member they aren’t getting a raise or a promotion, disciplining poor performance, or even firing someone. Having difficult conversations may never be easy, but there are ways to make those conversations both productive and as painless as possible.
Difficult Questions with Resolutions
I don’t think my team member will work out, should I quit while I am ahead?
Managing performance is about improving performance, not as a means to “get rid of staff”. Being clear about your expectations and the standard of performance you will assess them against will enable you to positively manage performance.
This way you give your team member the choice. That is to either increase their output and meet your performance expectations or decide not to change their behaviour knowing what the result will be. Most team members will improve performance and meet your expectations, the others will voluntarily leave their job.
What if my good workers think I believe they are doing a bad job?
Your good workers often cause little concern to you, they come in, get their work done and go home at the end of the day. They often cause few grumbles throughout the office, but they also often don’t inspire others, produce exceptional results or are earmarked for a future leader role.
Performance Management is about reinforcing the good work your team member currently does AND introducing expectations for increasing or challenging their current performance level.
If your worker is evaluated fairly, has the opportunity to be involved in setting targets for the future and looks positively at some stretch targets, they will know they are valued.
My team member agreed with the new objectives and measures, but they don’t seem to be changing their work style to get there… what can I do?
Be patient about results, we are all creatures of habits. When you raise the expectations of your people, it will take them a little while to change the way they do things. If you are patient and encouraging and restate your belief in their ability to do better they will eventually get there, and you will see the benefit from all of that renewed effort.
But keep on top of it. Don’t wait for the next appraisal, if you are still wondering after 3 months, schedule another meeting and review expectations and where you thought they would be by now, ensure they are still focused on the reviewed expectations, responsibilities or challenges.
I have a really great performer, scoring them high on their performance review just mean they will possibly ask for a pay rise?
Maybe, but at the end of the day think about what you have got, versus what you might have to give. A great performer will be self-sufficient, proactive, support and guide others and even influence others to behave more like them.
Given the choice between a poor performer and a great performer I know who I would rather deal with.
If you can’t give pay rises (funding, banding issues, market relativity) think what else you can offer rather than cash. More training, leadership development opportunities, the ability to be seconded to a special project, perhaps an offer to support and train new workers. This will often mean as much (and in the long term much more) than just a pay rise.
I have to hold a difficult conversation… how should I tackle it?
There are a range of issues that occur in the workplace that although may not require formal disciplinary action, will result in a discussion being required.
Such situations are also often awkward, embarrassing, or difficult and can include; inappropriate or unprofessional dress, personal hygiene issues, moody/ uncooperative behaviour, personality clashes etc.
Some examples of difficult conversation topics can include some of the following areas:
People dress inappropriately and unprofessionally for work. Personal hygiene is sometimes unacceptable. Flirtatious behaviour can lead to a sexual harassment problem. A messy desk is not the sign of an organized mind. Vulgar language is unprofessional. Leaving dirty dishes for others to wash is rude. These are just samples of the types of behaviour that require responsible feedback. These steps will help you hold those, sometimes petty, but necessary conversations.
Steps in providing constructive feedback:
|Step 1||Seek permission to provide the feedback. Even if you are the team member’s manager, start by stating you have some feedback you’d like to share. Ask if it’s a good time or if the team member would prefer to select another time and place (within reason, of course.)|
|Step 2||Use a soft entry. Don’t dive right into the feedback – give the person a chance to brace for potentially embarrassing feedback. Tell the team member that you need to provide feedback that is difficult to share. If you’re uncomfortable with your role in the conversation, you might say that, too. Most people are as uncomfortable providing feedback about an individual’s personal dress or habits, as the person receiving the feedback.|
|Step 3||Often, you are in the feedback role because other team members have complained to you about the habit, behaviour, or dress. Do not give in to the temptation to amplify the feedback, or excuse your responsibility for the feedback, by stating that a number of co-workers have complained. This heightens the embarrassment and harms the recovery of the person receiving feedback.|
|Step 4||The best feedback is straightforward and simple. Don’t beat around the bush. “I am talking with you because this is an issue that you need to address”.|
|Step 5||Tell the person the impact that changing his or her behaviour will have from a positive perspective. Tell the team member how choosing to do nothing will affect their career and job.|
|Step 6||Reach agreement about what the individual will do to change their behaviour. Set a due date – tomorrow, in some cases. Set a time frame to review progress in others.|
|Step 7||Follow-up. The fact that the problem exists means that backsliding is possible; further clarification may also be necessary. Then, more feedback and possibly, disciplinary action are possible next steps.|
|Step 8||You can become effective at holding difficult conversations. Practice and these steps will help build your comfort level.|
Why are difficult team members so difficult?
‘Difficult team members are that way simply because it is a behaviour that has worked for them in the past.’
A difficult team member may not know any other behaviour, or they may choose this behaviour because they find it to be the most effective. You will be successful in dealing with difficult team members only to the extent that you can make these undesirable behaviours no longer an effective choice for them.
Think of the team member who “blows up” whenever anyone disagrees with them. When he/she fires off, people stop disagreeing with them and they think they have won. Every-time there is any form of disagreement, their first response is to verbally (or physically) lash out, regardless of whether this addresses the issue or not.
The responsibility on the manager is to alter the result for the team member so the unsatisfactory behaviour/conduct no longer gets the outcome the team member is after.
Dealing With Various Personality Types
“Sooky, negative, world against me” and “absolute denial”
You need to ask yourself and the team member why would they behave like that?
- What environment have they come from that would make them think that way?
- What has occurred to them that may make them think that way?
Continuing to turn the conversation to a positive, solution orientated discussion by:
- Calling their bluff – “I understand that you may be feeling targeted, however this discussion is about identifying those issues and coming to a shared solution”
- Staff using negative behaviour as a defence can quickly be overcome if you bring attention to this and making the conversation positive – “I can see this is an uncomfortable situation for you to be in, however by focusing our attention on what is to happen in the future, we should be able to get through this issue quickly.
Keeping the focus of the discussion on reviewing what element of their performance is not satisfactory and what affect that is having on the business
The “Yes” person
It is important that the team member does not get away with just agreeing but is required to become involved in the solution. This will ensure that they leave the discussion with an action plan, not just a list of promises that they have no intention or ability to deliver on.
- Asking the staff member to put together a plan or solution and then address how that solution may or may not work.
- After the plan has been constructed “pulling it apart” determining why strategies will or won’t work
“An excuse for everything”
It is important to acknowledge excuses only to the point of identifying solutions. “I understand that you were relying on other staff members to provide you with that information, however, how can we make sure you get what you require when you need it for next time”.
- Review requirements and get agreement that these requirements are reasonable.
- Understand how the team member may address the situation next time.
- Provide clear and precise examples of expectations.
- Provide interim benchmarks or deadlines to raise concerns prior to the deadline.
- Look at actual situations with the staff member and identify where there is a gap between expectation and performance.
Goes off on a “tangent”
This is why planning and practice are so important.
- Use notes to get back on track
- Use a “parking lot”. A piece of paper on the desk or butchers paper on wall to document other issues to be dealt with in another session
Asking for feedback BUT not taking it
The resulting action plan of the discussion will ensure that feedback and outcomes are best achieved.
- Review expectations and performance gap
- Identify feedback areas and document them
- Identify what the staff member needs to put in place to correct performance issue, agreeing on an action plan, getting commitment and having timelines and feedback in place.
If challenging discussions are well handled, constructive feedback is delivered effectively, development within the company is achieved, performance and productivity have improved, conflict is significantly reduced and performance increases as a result, it demonstrations that beneficial decisions are being made.
Most importantly, managing people and culture engagement will help you build and ensure a positive work environment.
Confidently, this course should have broadened your understanding of how to conduct more positive, constructive discussions with your team. Remember to prepare in advance, be attentive and responsive during the discussion, and provide feedback subsequently.
You can be effective in having difficult conversation. Prepare and follow the steps listed in the course and they will help you develop a degree of confidence to hold difficult conversation. After all, a difficult conversation can make the difference between success and failure for a productive team member.