Professional Development

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The Art of Mastering Difficult Conversations with Staff

Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00

No one likes to have that difficult, awkward, and uncomfortable conversation with a staff member who just doesn't seem to get it. If you want to have a productive conversation, you've got to master the art of communicating effectively. 

 1. Prepare yourself. It is very important that you spend some time thinking about the conversation ahead of time and answer some very important questions such as: What is your goal? What is your role in the situation? Do you have any hidden agendas? If so, are those relevant and fair? What does the other party want? This preparation will allow you time to reflect and gather your thoughts.

2. Be honest with yourself. For real. Many of us get into tough conversations and find ourselves spending the whole time on an emotional rollercoaster, blaming others, and being defensive. Be honest with yourself and your role in the situation. The other party will appreciate that fact that you were reflective and are able to take responsibility for your own actions.

3. Decide what kind of interaction you want to have and communicate it. When communicating with subordinates, it is critical that you communicate with them what your goal is. Are you giving direction and are not interested in their input? Are you looking for a collaborative decision making process? Are you looking for input prior to making a decision? Are you delegating a task and all decision making authority? Communicating your intention at the start of the conversation will make the rest of the conversation much more productive.

4. Inquire, listen and acknowledge. Often times people just want to be heard. By being open to their point of view, asking questions, listening and then acknowledging their feelings, you have established a safe environment. The other party will be much less likely to be emotional and defensive once they have had their opportunity to speak.

5. Advocate. After listening to the other side, it is important that you advocate for your own position. This is your chance to address inconsistencies, share facts, confront patterns and explain your overall point of view. During this process you should show empathy but be firm and have the final word.

6. Problem solve. After both parties have had a chance to share their own facts and perspectives, you should come together to work towards a viable solution. Start with something you agree on and slowly build on that idea. Work towards consensus and possibly compromise a bit. Work towards a long term solution and agree on follow-up items.

7. Be clear and honest. Honesty is the most important part of successful conversations. Even though the truth is sometimes difficult to address, in the long run it will be critical in order to build trust and a positive working relationship.

8. Deliver bad news in a timely manner. When it is time to deliver bad news to an employee or superior, don't hesitate. Ideally, the news won't come as a surprise and you can offer facts in writing to justify your position. After the news is shared remember to show understanding, empathy and treat the other party with deserved dignity and respect.

9. Monitor your emotions. If you are emotional about the subject then recognize that and deal with those emotions prior to engaging in conversation. Emotions need to be put in check and managed carefully so as to not turn a productive dialogue into a messy argument.

10. Don't be afraid. Fear of failure is the single largest obstacle to success. Be confident in your position and your skills. Maintain professionalism and remember that it is only difficult if you make it so!

Submitted by: Stacy Litteral, Associate Executive Director, Kids' Country

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