Top Tips for Having a Difficult Conversation

Most people dread having a challenging conversation, but it is likely that at some point that you will have to have a conversation which you know will broach a difficult topic. A challenging conversation can be anything from discussing a delicate subject, delivering unpleasant news or a talk about something that hasn’t gone to plan, or which needs to change.

Talking face to face with an employee about issues or problems might be a daunting prospect but below are Agility R&C’s top tips for having a difficult.

Do….

  1. Be prepared – Have an outline of the key points that you intend to discuss. Although be careful to not to write yourself a script as this can stifle the conversation.
  2. Gather evidence and establish the facts – if your conversation is about the performance of the individual then you should have the employee’s performance targets to hand and how they have failed to meet them. You should also establish whether there is any mitigating circumstances, such as whether the employee has been off sick or if their targets had been altered. Check your internal policies and procedures as this may also give you some guidance on the action which may need to be taken.
  3. Choose a suitable time and place – To have an open and frank conversation, the conversation needs to be held in a private place. Remember to allow enough time so that the conversation is not rushed and factor in time for breaks if there is a lot to discuss.
  4. Always have a face-to-face conversation – emails can be misinterpreted and face to face is more effective as the employee can see that the matter is being taken seriously.
  5. Be direct – Don’t beat around the bush and state exactly what you want to talk about in your first few sentences and why the conversation has to happen. If the conversation loses its focus at any point, this should help you to get it back on track.
  6. Use non-defensive communication – Starting sentences with ‘you’ can sound like and attack and is more likely to make the person you are speaking to respond in a defensive way.

Don’t….

  1. Let your emotions get in the way – stay focused, objective and non-judgmental at all times. Being in control is not always about winners and losers, therefore you may need to reach a compromise or agree a way to move forward.
  2. Rush the conversation – Take your time and make sure you cover all the points you need to discuss and any other which arise in the meeting.
  3. End the meeting without agreeing a way forward – Like stories, meetings need to have a beginning, middle and end. Start by setting out the purpose of the meeting, discuss the points then finish by stating what is expected moving forward and a time line.

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