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“I really hate these conversations. They make me anxious”
“I know I need to talk to him, but somehow, I keep avoiding it”
“One of my team members is having performance issues. I am not sure how to discuss it with him as he is very senior”
These are actual comments I have heard from leaders, when it comes to having these so called difficult conversations
In my coaching experience, I have seen a lot of people leaders really struggle in this area because of their own fears and worries
How will the other person react ?
I am a very nice person. How will I convey this tough message?
What will the other person think about me ?
And so on….
I will split this discussion into 2 parts :
1) How to mentally prepare yourself to have such conversations
2) How to actually have the conversation ( structure, language etc )
In today’s newsletter, we will focus on part 1 – How to prepare yourself to have these conversations
And in one of the subsequent emails, I will talk about the second part ( How to have the conversation )
So here are 7 points to consider for today’s discussion:
1. What is a difficult conversation?
First things first – let’s understand what is a difficult conversation
You can apply two simple rules to find out whether you consider a conversation difficult or not
One - It is a conversation which you are trying to avoid, a conversation that you're trying to run away from!
You don't want to confront the other person
Two - It is a conversation where you expect the other person to react strongly
The other person could be a team member or your peer. It could even be your manager!
Here are some common situations which you might have to deal with:
..When you have to let go of some team member because of some reorg or downsizing
..Annual performance appraisal when the performance report is not good
..Discussions around no or low salary increment
..When an employee is not getting promoted and you have to convey this news
..Performance-related ( underperformance, not meeting the expectations )
The last one, performance-related, is probably the most common type, right?
It could be during the annual performance appraisal cycle or during your regular feedback discussions
It could even be a discussion which is triggered based on a specific performance or behavior you have observed
Each of these situation is unique and need separate preparation, but for the sake of today’s discussion, we will primarily focus on the last type ( performance-related )
2. It is your job
Don’t forget that as a people leader, having these conversations is part of your responsibility
It is part of your job
You could be a very people-friendly and empathetic leader
You could be having a very soft and nice approach to managing people
But there would be times when you really need to have these conversations with some of your team members, especially when there are certain behaviors or performance issues which need to be addressed
Such issues could impact you, your team, your team's performance and the concerned individual as well, right?
So if you are running away from such conversations when needed, in a way, you are not doing justice with your role as a people leader
3. It’s part of their development journey
If you are avoiding performance-related conversations, then, in some way, you are doing some dis-service to the concerned team member
Because if they are not aware how their behavior or performance is being perceived or how it is impacting others, they will not get a chance to improve
So it's a part of the growth and development of the team member as well
4. The Reframe
This point is really critical to understand. It is very foundational
Reframe means looking at the same issue from a different angle, from a different lens
So instead of thinking of these conversations as difficult conversations, think about these as direct conversations
Reframe - Direct, not difficult
It is NOT a difficult conversation
This is important because the more you think that this is a difficult conversation, the more you try to avoid and run away from it
The fact is that your own worries and anxiousness are making it seem like a difficult conversation, whereas in essence, it is a direct conversation (with a tough message)
5. What you control and what you don’t
You don't control how others will react when you give them a tough message
..They may feel angry, frustrated or sad
..They may cry
..They may shout
You just don't control that
You can only anticipate it and prepare yourself
All you control is your own actions, your own behavior, your own emotions, your own feelings, your own words – how you will react
This is again important to understand because that fear of how the other person will react and the fear that you will not be able to manage the situation holds you back from having the conversation
They will react the way they want to react
You react the way you should. Period
6. Preparation is the key
Because this is not a standard conversation, you need to prepare well
You cannot simply walk into it blind-sided
Preparation in terms of….
..Selecting the right time and place
..Gathering data and evidence to support your argument
..The right structure of the conversation
..Your own emotional and mental readiness
7. Be Direct
This is where I feel many people leaders make a mistake
A direct message needs a direct mode of delivery
So don't sugar coat the message. Be direct, so that it lands the way it should land
I know a lot of leaders who communicate in a way so that the team member should not feel offended
And a lot of times I've seen that they communicate in a what I call sandwich style
Sandwich is where you start off with a very positive note and continue the conversation in a nice tone
Then, you slip the tough message in between
And you close with a nice and positive message
So, the tough message gets sandwiched between these two positive messages.
The problem with that approach is that the person who is receiving this message is usually lost
They feel confused
They don't know what the real message is - are they doing well, are they not doing well ??
What is really happening?
My recommendation to you is to NOT sandwich the message. Be direct
Direct does not mean that you have to be nasty or you have to be angry
It does not mean you have to shout, or you have to be aggressive
Direct simply means direct. To the point
It is important, so that the employee gets the message
That’s all for today's discussion. Here’s a quick recap of the 7 points :
1. What is a difficult conversation? Something you are trying to avoid and where you expect a strong reaction
2. It is part of your job as a people leader
3. If performance related, it is also needed for the professional development of the employee
4. Reframe. Difficult conversations are simply direct conversations
5. You don't control how others will react. You only control how you will react
6. Preparation is important
7. Don’t sandwich. Be direct
Hope you find this useful to mentally prepare yourself for having such conversations with the concerned team member, when needed
In one of the future newsletters, I will discuss how to actually have the conversation (structure and language)
Time to leave you with your weekly reflection on this topic:
1) What really holds you back from having a difficult conversation?
2) What is your real fear?
3) If you have been avoiding such a conversation, what will you do differently now ?
And if you would like to get coached to prepare yourself for such conversations, drop me a note or book your introductory call here (Book Your Call) !