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The Business Leader’s Guide to Difficult Conversations

Touchy, embarrassing subjects. Disciplinary issues. Bad performance reviews. There's no way around tough conversations. No one likes conflict, but avoiding conversations only makes matters worse. So, leaders have to get through them.

First step: Conquer your fears.

Then, consider the following guidelines to help you use difficult conversations to improve productivity and help your employees succeed.

Do your homework.

The more you prepare, the better the conversation will go.

Don't pull employees in for a matter based on your observations alone—you need evidence that their actions are affecting the people around them. Does their timesheet indicate that they're often late? Have customers complained? Most important, lack of preparation won't help your employees' growth. You should be able to outline expectations and explain how your employees are missing the mark.

As a business leader, you're also a coach. It's up to you to provide everything your employees need to succeed—it could be rules, guidelines, goals, objectives or maybe even disciplinary actions, when needed.

Be positive.

Sometimes, it's all about perspective.

While you want to be clear about your concern, look at difficult conversations as opportunities for improvement. If you approach a conversation negatively, employees are like to get defensive and argumentative. That's counterproductive.

Pitch the conversation as a "quick chat." Begin with open-ended questions that help your employee feel he or she is heard, such as: "How's everything going?" or "Do you have ideas of how we can meet the goal?"

Emphasize that your employees will be held accountable for their behavior and goals, but—just as you begin the conversation on a positive note—end the meeting on a positive note. Employees should leave feeling equipped to perform better.

Leave your emotions at the door.

Difficult conversations can easily become emotionally charged, so make an effort to keep your own feelings in check.

Avoid saying anything that indicates your own emotions involved in observations and evaluations, such as, "I'm disappointed" or "I feel." Always use cold, hard facts.

If the conversation becomes too emotionally charged for either participant, press the pause button and reschedule.

Be consistent.

Employees have different tasks and responsibilities, but they should all be held accountable to the same expectations. Have the same dialogue with anyone who is slipping.

Keep it confidential.

Whether it's a conflict with one employee or conflict among several, only those involved in the situation should be aware of the conflict. If conversations are based off feedback or complaints from other employees, protect those involved, if possible, by keeping their identity concealed.

Courtesy of Groups Today.


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