Seven Strategies for Discussing the Tough Stuff

Seven Strategies for Discussing the Tough Stuff

Author: Denise Patrick

We all know what it’s like to try and prepare for a difficult conversation. For quite a few of us, we end up either trying to avoid the conversation, or we end up defaulting to a tactic that may not yield the results we seek. When the situation is work related, those conversations can be about a direct report’s poor performance, it can be a behavioral issue that impacts the work environment in a negative way, or it can be an ongoing conflict with another unit or individual. In this article, I will share seven strategies that will help you put those conversations in context and will help you better prepare for them.

Know your team

 While it may be difficult to get to know every single person on your team, get to know as many people as you can so that you get a sense of what is going on with your team. Not only will you gain some insight into their work habits, you will also have an opportunity to learn more about their learning and communication styles. Having that kind of information is critical in helping your team develop. Not only does this help you know them, it gives your team a chance to get to know you, thereby creating stronger relationships.

Create a focused and results-oriented goal 

Businesses tend to be results-driven. Business conversa3ons are similar. When we listen to others, we are listening for well-organized, focused comments so we understand the purpose of the conversa3on and what intended outcomes are expected. Having the goal helps keep both you and the listener stay focused and on the right path. The more defined and specific the goal, the beCer you have a chance of achieving your desired results. Ask these questons when creatng your goal:

What do I need to talk about? Why do I need to talk about it? What result am I seeking?

Structure your conversation 

Remember this is a conversation, not a lecture. Conversations give and gather information. While you certainly want to feel confident and comfortable you want the other person to feel the same way. Listen to the person with whom you’re speaking mindfully. Be mindful of your attitude, your responses, and of the other person’s full communication (verbal and nonverbal). Outline what you want to say and, if it helps, use talking points and an agenda.

Get familiar with your communication style 

If you want to make sure that you are creating shared meaning between you and the person you are speaking to, then you want to become aware of your own communication style while being aware of the other person’s style. Just like personality styles, we have to work on adapting our style of communicating to a different style so that we are more effective communicators. For example, if your style is more direct and assertive, then you may monopolize the conversation more than other styles. You should flex your style to accommodate those styles that are less assertive. If you tend to be less vocal and assertive then you’ll want to work on flexing your style to be heard while making your point.

Build trust through candor and transparency 

Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something while candor is being open and honest in expression. Distrust is a natural part of the the workplace environment. Managers need to make the most of whatever opportunities they have to increase their direct reports’ trust on all levels. The way to increase the trust between you and your team is to be honest, be consistent and maintain your integrity.

Coach and counsel when you correct 

Occasionally, our team members need corrective action. While necessary at times, it is at these times that managers cringe at having to have those conversations. First, if this is the kind of problem that can be solved through a discussion, work with the individual by using a problem solving approach as a method to address the issue. That approach can also include a plan of action. So that both of you are on the same page.

*  Redirect if necessary (link and leave strategy, but use “redirect”)
*  Say the correction
*  Be specific
*  Watch your body language and be mindful of your position
*  If it is the kind of conversation where a problem can be solved, work with the individual on problem-solving skills
*  Develop a plan of action
*  This is a great time to ask questions and to practice mindful listening.

Be a situational leader 

Because people have different development needs at different stages of their work life, managers would be best advised to adapt their leadership practices to situations as well as the unique work styles of their direct reports. The underlying premise of situational leadership, originally developed by Hersey and Blanchard, assumes that there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing others. As a situational leader, one assesses the need of a team or team member and then uses a well-suited style to respond to that specific need. Being situational means being flexible, being candid and knowing what message to deliver and when.

Finally, remember that you cannot *not* communicate. No matter what you do, you’re always sending a message. By using some of the suggestions above, you may get closer to communicating what you intended and all parties involved have a better chance of getting to a shared meaning.

Denise Patrick is the CEO of Teach, Lead, Inspire. She presented on this topic to a full house at our Speaker Select Series this fall.

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