No matter how you define them, tough conversations, conflicts and confrontations are all one in the same. And, most people will avoid them at all cost.
A top sales rep failed to take care of a customer’s request. Instead of her manager reminding her that clients’ emails needed to be handled immediately, he took care of the request himself. He dreaded any type of tough conversation and rationalized it was easier to do it himself. He feared he would upset her and didn’t want to listen to her excuses. But, when it happened again, the manager’s upset was apparent when he told her he shouldn’t need to do her job for her. The problem was, he forgot this was their first conversation about it. The result? She quit and took several clients with her.
Usually when we have a conversation that is not going well or need to have one that we anticipate will go badly, we feel anxious and tense. Just the thought of having one of these conversations changes our breathing and heart rate … signally to our bodies that something doesn’t feel right!
To add to these feelings of dread, our memories are not infallible. Many studies have shown that our minds begin to distort the past almost immediately.
So, we wait and hope problems will magically disappear (and, they rarely do). Or, we jump right in without preparing ourselves to create a positive result. Gossip and finger-pointing grow, creating a mountain out of a molehill! All because you felt it would be easier to avoid having a tough conversation.
A manager hated his job, but, needed the paycheck. His boss would remind him periodically that he needed to listen more, instead of coming across as a know-it-all bully in meetings. Nothing changed and several employees quit. Why? His boss didn’t know how to talk straight, which left the manager unclear of what needed to change and how to do it. The manager’s career was derailed.
It’s critical today, more so than ever due to the difficulty of attracting and keeping great employees, that bosses and business leaders learn how to get positive results from having tough conversations.
8 Ways to Handle Tough Conversations
- Create the Intended Outcome Before the Meeting. This is multi-step process. First, write out what worked and what didn’t work … focus on the facts of what happened. This exercise gets you to the heart of the upset or conflict based on your POV. Second, look at the problem from both sides to help clarify for you what is in the best interests of the aggrieved person … and, the company, employees, vendors, and customers. Third, review company policy and have copies available, if needed. Then, and only then, determine your intended outcome.
- Set Up a Specific Time to Meet. Schedule a time that is mutually convenient to begin and end the meeting. Ensure there is enough time so no one feels rushed.
- Make it Private. Provide a confidential one-on-one setting and include others directly involved. This is important since you want people to speak freely to fully resolve the issue.
- Talk Straight. Saying what you mean in a manner that others can readily understand is important. Don’t let your feelings about who is right or wrong take over the meeting, or it will sabotage your results. It’s beneficial to role play your conversation with your coach or mentor before the meeting to build your confidence.
- Ask for Their Perspective First! Asking them to go first serves three purposes. First, it allows them to vent or share what the problem is based on their perceptions. Second, you can see what the real issue(s) is from their POV. Third, they are more likely to listen to you if they have a chance to talk first.
- Use Persuasive Listening Skills. Repeat back to them what you heard them say to their satisfaction, using the same words. Do not assume you know how someone is feeling. Because, if you do, you may be wrong and it will spark additional upset. When you are sure they are done talking, then, share your POV. Give opportunities for each person to contribute to building a solution.
- Keep Your Ego at Bay. Dial down your ego and dial up your humility. Remember, being right will not get the issue resolved. Use “I” phrases when talking. Don’t disrespect anyone by saying, “These things should never happen.” or “Everyone believes I’m right.”
- Focus on Win-Win-Win Outcomes. Everyone wants to feel that they’ve won. Be open and willing to table the final outcome if further information is required. Schedule the next meeting. Follow-up. Stay in communication. Don’t wait!
Bosses and business leaders must learn how to have tough conversations that make a positive difference. These 8 ways provided above will improve your results with employees, clients and vendors, while improving your business reputation. An added bonus in having tough conversations is that these will dramatically improve your ability to hire, coach, manage, and train your teams to produce intended results.
©Jeannette Seibly, 2018
Jeannette Seibly has been recognized as a catalyst and leadership expert for the past 25 years. As an executive coach, speaker and author, she provides straight talk with dynamic results. What’s in the way of you and your team members having tough conversations? Persuasive listening training is critical and will help you and your teams overcome underlying fears. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact Jeannette now for a preliminary confidential conversation.