Discussing difficult topics with employees
Having difficult conversations with employees can be one of the most challenging tasks a manager has to complete. Whether it is providing constructive feedback, addressing team conflict, or providing some unwelcome news, how the information is discussed may have a great impact on the next steps moving forward. There are some best practices for handling discussing difficult topics that allow for the best possible outcome.
Be prompt. When it comes to sharing information that may cause conflict or bad feelings, it is a common tendency to procrastinate having the conversation. Delaying having the conversation can cause more distress. For example, if there’s a behavior that needs to be corrected, not addressing it as soon as possible can cause the issue to worsen. Employees may also see procrastination as dishonesty or deceit. As soon as it is appropriate to have the conversation, schedule a time to have it and keep the appointment.
Be prepared. Difficult conversations require the manager to be ready to facilitate a productive discussion. If you are sharing some feedback related to performance, employees will likely want examples of incorrect behavior and suggestions on how to improve. Talking with employees about why they did not receive a raise, recognition, or promotion may require that you share appropriate information and feedback about the process. Creating a game plan for sharing information, answering questions, and managing expectations will be helpful to create a space for fruitful conversation.
Be sincere and empathetic. While many employees may be skilled at hearing and responding to difficult news, it is not easy for anyone to hear it. It can be helpful to use what you know about your employee to make sure you are sharing the information in a constructive and supportive way. Some individuals like to get to the point; they want to understand the situation and know what is necessary to move forward. Other employees may be more focused on the process; the “why and the how” of the situation. Knowing your employee style for receiving feedback and anticipating needs will help the conversation occur more productively.
Be aware of your own emotions. Difficult conversations often elicit emotions from all parties. Processing your feelings about the difficult topic will allow you to be more focused and accurate during the conversation. This does not mean that you need to take emotion out of the conversation, to the contrary. We often equate professionalism with the omission of emotion. It is more important to adequately express and manage emotions in the work setting than to pretend they do not exist.
Be solution-focused. It is easy to get “stuck in the weeds” during difficult conversations. Having a goal in mind will help focus the conversation when it begins to get off track. While it may be important to explore all aspects of a particular issue, stating the goal during the conversation is a great way to refocus your employee and yourself.
Talking with employees about difficult topics is a necessary challenge. It is possible to have positive outcomes from these conversations with the right preparation and expectations.