September 19, 2017

Your Tuesday Top 5: How to Have Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Posted by AGU Career Center

Perhaps, at one time or another, you have found yourself  in the uncomfortable position of having to discuss a delicate subject with an employee (or even a family member). At work, the issue could be a dress code violation, poor performance, conflict with a coworker, or even rude behavior. At home, the issue could be about money, a child’s grades or behavior, or trying to get out of a dinner with the in-laws. None of these conversations are easy. And unfortunately, the longer you put them off, the more difficult these conversations will become.

Rather than wait for these situations to worsen, resolve to address the issue and find mutually agreeable solutions.  To aid you in this process, this week’s Tuesday Top 5 provides tips on how to approach these sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

Here are your Tuesday Top 5 Tips to How to Have Difficult Conversations whether at work with an employee or at home with a friend or family member.

  1. Plan your meeting

Prior to the meeting, ask yourself these questions: “Where are we now? Where are we going? How would you like to get there?” After you have your answers, it will be easier to navigate through your discussion.

  1. Be factual, candid and unemotional

A calm demeanor encourages the other person to also be calm (or to calm down) and better explain the circumstances. Be candid and use facts instead of assumptions or hearsay. This demonstrates your professionalism and willingness to help. It also builds trust between you and the counterpart; this is especially important in the manager-employee relationship.

  1. Slow down and listen

Slow down and pause before responding to the other person. This gives you a chance to carefully choose your words, keeping the discussion as calm and thoughtful as possible. Ask the other person how he/she sees the problem and then look for overlaps between your perspectives. It is important that both parties feel like they are being heard.

  1. Look for solutions

The purpose of your discussion is to create agreement about the situation without getting lost in blame. Demonstrating mutual understanding and respect will help your conversation to move forward constructively.  To truly address a conflict means more than simply identifying it.  A solution must also involve a plan, either reactive, proactive or both, that both identifies problems and their root causes and lays out steps to prevent their future occurrence.

  1.   Follow up soon afterward 

It is important to check in on progress routinely. Ask the other person how he/she’s doing. Take note of any progress and comment on it. Alternatively, if there has been none, at work, document and plan for the next conversation, following whatever escalation path has been established. At home, consider your next conversation using the above steps for guidance (i.e., rinse, wash, repeat as needed).

Patricia Yaya is the Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services at the American Geophysical Union.  Additional AGU Staff contributed to this blog.