In my years of management and HR, I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable conversations. From telling an employee they are showing their nipples to telling my boss they’re under investigation for physical assault – there’s never a lack of them. Each conversation creates butterflies, demands preparation, and I’ve never been thrilled to do any of them. They are a necessity. An uncomfortable necessity.
Many managers tend to want to “hide things under the rug.” If it doesn’t get talked about, it isn’t a problem, right? I can’t think of a stupider way to face any difficult situation than to think that “ostriching” is the best course of action. Managers dilute themselves into thinking “it’s not that big of a deal” or “it will work itself out” and I can tell you that it rarely ever does.
Up front one-on-one communication always trumps any type of insinuations, innuendos, or distance notifications (e-mails, memos, etc.) When there’s bad news to be given, or even just uncomfortable news, there’s no better way to tackle it than to sit down, knee to knee, eye to eye to a person and lay it out to them in a respectful and caring manner.
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That being said, here’s some tips on having Uncomfortable Conversations:
- The Golden Rule. No matter how you feel about this person personally, maybe they’re The Guffaw Laughter Lady or The Evil Retractable Pen Clicker Dude, don’t be rude. Don’t be mean. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Practice some empathy and ask yourself, “If I were in their shoes, how would I want this information delivered?”
- Preparation. I rarely “wing” serious or semi-serious conversations. Whether they’re planned out in my head or outlined on some notes. Going into an uncomfortable conversation can be nerve racking and confusing, bring a list of topics to discuss so you don’t get off topic or say something you didn’t mean to say.
- Be Specific. Pull out surveillance video of them taking the last of the coffee and not refilling, reference the emails that show they have issues sounding “abrupt” – when you can, site specific instances. Avoid generalizations, avoid sugar-coating, and especially avoid diplomatic jargon that gets confusing and garbled.
- Don’t cave. Along the same lines of specificity, don’t allow yourself to shrug it off when things get really uncomfortable. There’s a tendency to make light of things when it gets more uncomfortable. While that sexist cat meme was funny – it still needs to be addressed. There’s always the urge to hurry things up and make light of it all, resist the temptation. Stick to the reality of the issue.
- Have a goal. In combination with preparing for the conversation, there should be a reason or specific outcome you’re looking for from this conversation. Otherwise, why are you having it? If the employee is performing above standards but comes in late by 15 minutes every morning ask yourself is it really necessary to talk about this? Once you’ve identified the goal or outcome needed, state it. The traditional method is “Going forward, I need you to ______ from now on, agreed?”
Once the conversation winds down be sure to ask them for their thoughts/opinions/reactions and truly LISTEN. At this point if they have any needs (within reason) to help towards the wanted outcome, see what you can do. Thank them for their time and be sincere about it. Keep in mind that they were just as uncomfortable as you. Then, follow up. If you promised to “look into something” or “we can talk about this again in a month” – mark it on your calendar and make it a point to follow through. Don’t dump the bad news and leave them hanging. And lastly, be nice to your HR department – document it. You never know when the “Please stop calling everyone ‘boobie'” conversation will turn into the “We’ve had a complaint” conversation. True story.
Most uncomfortable conversation…?
What’s your experience with uncomfortable conversations? Have you ever had to deliver not so pleasing news to a co-worker?