8 Tips for Tough Conversations with Employees

Whether you’re in the thick of it or on the sidelines, almost everyone has experienced work drama. Managing appropriate boundaries and balancing the social dynamics of the office can be challenging. Fortunately, you can manage tough conversations with employees with a little planning and preparation.

Preparing for tough conversations helps you avoid making serious missteps, regardless of how the other person reacts. Here are eight tips that will get you ready for that tough conversation with an employee.

1. Prepare mentally and emotionally for the conversation

First and foremost, determine exactly what you want to say. Make sure you’re confident about your desired outcomes for the conversation before anyone starts talking. You can also mentally remind yourself of the boundaries of a professional relationship to help you resist the temptation of taking anything personally and maintain an appropriate environment.

Think about why you’re saying what you want to say and seriously put yourself in the other’s shoes for a moment. It’s up to you to not only lead the conversation but set a tone for it as well.

2. Make a list of the points you want to cover

Difficult conversations can quickly get off track. You’d be surprised by how easy it is to forget to say something crucial you meant to mention. Preparing a list of main points will help you clarify your goals as well as help you guide the conversation in the way you want.

Having a clear understanding of what you want to cover will improve your conversation and help avoid missteps. No matter how the chat goes, a roadmap will ensure you leave the conversation satisfied you said everything you wanted to.

3. Anticipate potential questions and objections

Whether the conversation is difficult because of the topic or the person you’re having it with, it’s best to prepare for any type of opposition that might arise. Thinking about how the other person will feel and may react leaves you more prepared. It also helps you develop more empathy for your employee. Consider how you’d respond if someone approached you with this conversation. Better yet, practice the conversation with a friend or colleague and ask for their input.

4. Stay calm and respectful

The person you are talking to will follow your lead. If you maintain a calm persona and speak respectfully, you’re communicating that you expect the same in return. Additionally, it will help maintain professional boundaries and ensure successful communication. Even if a conflict arises during the conversation, be intentional about staying calm. This helps encourage your employee to do the same and de-escalate the situation. There is no need for the conversation to turn into a fight. Stay calm and it won’t.

5. End the conversation on a positive note

Regardless of how difficult the conversation is, the best thing you can do for yourself and the person you’re talking to is to end the conversation on a positive note. Whether that’s highlighting a silver lining or emphasizing your appreciation for what’s gone right, try to wrap up with a focus on the positive. Remind your employee that you both belong to a team and need to rely on each other.

6. Follow up after the meeting with a memo or email detailing the next steps

Following up after a difficult conversation ensures that you’re both on the same page and are clear on what will happen moving forward. This will also encourage an active line of communication and help smooth over any tensions that might have arisen during the conversation. You want your employee to know what you expect from them and what to do next. This will also further justify the conversation in the worker’s mind.

7. Give team members time to digest what was said and provide support as needed

While you have the opportunity to prepare and think about the conversation, the person you are talking to may feel like it is coming out of nowhere. Give them time to digest your words and ask questions so that they’ll feel heard. Allowing them space to respond will also help you know how to best support them. Ask them what they need and make sure they know that you are available to support them.

8. Seek opinions and feedback from other managers or HR professionals

One of the best ways to prepare for a difficult conversation is to ask for input from those you know and trust. Run the conversation by them and consider their suggestions. You might gain a new perspective or think of something you haven’t before.

Preparing for your conversation will give you the confidence you need to approach the situation successfully. The best thing you can do for yourself, however, is to keep in mind the person on the other side of the conversation. Finding ways to connect with the people you work with can be difficult. However, finding common ground and empathizing with team members will make any hard conversation easier.

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