[Podcast S1E10] It IS that hard! Difficult Conversations in the Workplace, Some Tips
Your stomach is in knots, you’re on edge, you have a high level of anxiety and you just don’t want to go to work today. Are you sick? No, but this is what many of us may go through when we know we must have a difficult conversation with an employee or co-worker. Unless you’re my 8th-grade Geometry teacher, Ms. Anderson, who thoroughly enjoyed handing out D and F notices, most of us don’t enjoy delivering bad news. Our emotions take over which often manifest into physical reactions compounding the situation, thus making the process that much more difficult. Our primitive brain, or lizard brain, takes over engaging our flight or fight response, and when we know a difficult conversation is to be had, we often opt for the flight.
Ever hear the term: “Know your audience”? The same rings true when you’re about to have a difficult conversation. Know who you are about to engage with and how they receive information. Knowing your audience will help you deliver the news in such a way that you’ll have an increased likelihood of the message being received and understood. In relation to the DiSC personality type, leaders are often a D, or Dominance, personality type. When a D must have a conversation with one who is a C, or Conscientiousness, for example, they must understand before they have the conversation that this person needs time to process information. Where the communication breaks down in this scenario is the D blurts out the issue, usually in what is perceived as a direct and harsh manner, then gets upset when the C provides no response because they are taking time to process the information. You have to understand that your employees and co-workers are not just like you, thus how they react to your feedback may be very different than how you would react to that same feedback. When you prepare for a difficult conversation, make sure you take into account the person you are about to speak with. It would behoove you to modify your delivery based on how that person receives and processes information. Walk a mile in their shoes, not your own.
The term difficult conversation already has a negative connotation and if we are to be successful leaders it’s time to change our mindset. Instead of referring to it as a difficult conversation, let’s refer to it as constructive feedback or coaching. The age-old process of administering an annual review once per year on one’s anniversary date should be abandoned and replaced with one-on-ones at frequent intervals throughout the year. These one-on-one sessions can be utilized to deliver both positive and constructive feedback, centered around a theme of either making your employee or co-worker the best they can be at their current job, or by helping them gain the experience and knowledge needed to move to the next level. This is a WE approach, whereby you are invested in the success of your employee or co-worker. Remember, if you think there’s an I in TEAM, you’ll find it in the A-hole.
What is the purpose of all this anyway? The purpose is to correct behaviors in an effort to improve an employee’s performance or their relationships with co-workers. Communication is the key, so lead by example and communicate often regarding both positive and less-than-positive behaviors. If we could all learn to speak our minds AND deliver it in a way that our audience receives and understands that message, then we’ll stop making mountains out of molehills. Letting employees and co-workers continue to exhibit behaviors that are less than ideal, and oftentimes detrimental to production, until we get to a boiling point and explode, is not the way to address things. Identify opportunities to coach your employees or co-workers soon after the behavior is exhibited, plan out your conversation, articulate the issue, or issues, and how it affects you, others and/or their productivity, deliver it in a way that the person you are speaking to will best receive it, give that person an opportunity to process and respond to that information, then work together to come up with a mutually beneficial resolution. Nobody is perfect, so treat each other with respect and decency while learning to work together focused on a common goal.