During your career as a manager, you may encounter sensitive situations with colleagues and employees. Often these problems don’t resolve themselves on their own and employees may be upset, confused and the list of potential situations you may face is endless.

When difficult situations arise it often falls to the manager to have the hard conversation with their direct report. No one told me this when I became a manager and I have had to teach myself this skill, apply knowledge gleaned from others, and consolidate what I have learnt on the job. It’s my hope that with this post I’ll leave you with tips you can use the next time you find yourself in a “what the heck do I do with this?” type of dilemma.

My top five strategies for having tough work conversations:

  1. Ask someone you trust for their suggestions and approach.

Ask them what they would say given the scenario. You can ask your HR department, your supervisor, a mentor or a colleague in another department. Sometimes, though, your workplace resources aren’t enough. After consulting my colleagues, my go-to person for management advice is my mother who held a high-ranking position at a chemical company for decades before she retired last year. Over the years she managed several unique personalities and encountered every situation under the sun. Whenever I have an issue with a direct report, I change the details and don’t reveal any personal information, but I ask her how she would handle the situation. Usually, the advice from people around you is spot-on, but needs to be tweaked for the specific matter at hand.

  1. Consult free literature that exists on the topic.

Harvard Business Review has a lot of articles that cover this very subject. HBR has a great Management Tip of the Day newsletter that covers a myriad of sticky issues that can be reviewed when needed. I also love Alison Green’s Ask a Manager web site which is my personal favourite. She has tons of archived content about every personnel issue you can think of; it’s easy to search by topic. Forbes and LinkedIn are also good resources.

  1. Schedule a time to chat with your employee and write up your talking points a few days in advance.

This isn’t a conversation you want to wing. You need to have a plan and make sure you hit on your key points. Are they showing up to work late and not completing their assignments? You better decide which is the larger issue you need to tackle. Are they being offensive to colleagues or harassing their own direct reports? Again, you want to come armed with specific examples and provide strategies or suggestions for them on how to handle themselves according to your standards and/or company guidelines. You want to be perfectly clear about what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and provide your employee with ideas on how to fix the problem. You can also ask them how they would address the issue.

  1. Practice the conversation out loud.

It can be to the wall or to your dog, but saying the words as if you are having the conversation will help you identify what parts of your script need work and what should be eliminated or added. Are you focusing on the wrong things? Wasting time with small talk? Stumbling over clunky wording? Is your message getting lost? Make sure to do a run-through a couple of times to find weak spots and smooth them out.

  1. Have your notes handy, but don’t recite them word-for-word.

Employees want to know that you’re being sincere and not just giving them the party line during these types of discussions. If they think you’re phoning it in they won’t understand the magnitude of the situation and what performance issues need to be corrected. Remember, no matter how difficult this conversation is for you, it’s undoubtedly hard on your employee, too. Let your employee ask questions and if needed, promise to schedule a follow-up meeting in two weeks to revisit the discussion and review what steps the employee has taken (or not) to address the issue you discussed.

In the end, if you take adequate time to prepare yourself for difficult conversations it will make them that much smoother and hopefully create an environment that fosters open communication. Do you have your own tips for tackling difficult conversations at work? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author
Deanna Cabinian is the director of consumer marketing for a global media company. She has six years of management experience and twelve years of experience working in the corporate world. When she isn’t working, she loves to write. She’s the author of a series of novels for young adult readers and is represented by Aevitas Creative Management. Find her online at https://deannacabinian.com/

 


Do you love flexing your conversation muscle? Or do you run a mile when a big or difficult conversation presents itself? Whether you’re meeting with someone new, speaking with colleagues or connecting with your partner, there’s more to conversation than just a verbal exchange. 

The conversations we have, and the way in which we have them, hugely impact our work, and the quality of our relationships. But sometimes it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations, or go into a conversation only really half listening. So, how can we have productive conversations and get the best outcomes for everyone involved – including ourselves? 

Being present, preparing correctly and removing preconceived ideas are all ways we can improve our conversations, but often we’re too distracted or worried to really make the conversations we have a truly meaningful exchange. 

Here are some key tips on how to make the most of your conversations. 

The power of perspective

Understanding someone else’s perspective and truly considering things from their point of view has huge power. It leads the path to connection, communication and conflict resolution. As children we’re encouraged to ‘put ourselves in someone else’s shoes’, but as adults we often forget to consider other people’s perspectives. The result? We take part in conversations in a way which is only half there. 

By understanding someone else, a whole other world opens up. It becomes difficult to blame and shame people when you understand that they, just like you, just want to be content in their own way. 

Tip: next time you’re having a conversation, try to truly be open and present to the other person and their point of view. Practice mindfulness rather than mindlessness. 

Add curiosity to your toolbox 

Curiosity is a powerful thing for our conversations. Being curious and open means asking questions rather than just making statements. Think about why your clients, customers or colleagues will be impacted by your decisions, and think about what it means for them, not just how it benefits you. 

Ask, rather than assume to improve your understanding. Try questions such as:

  • Can you tell me more about that? 
  • And what else? 
  • It sounds like you’re saying… Is this correct?
  • Can you help me understand better? 

Try this: if you struggle to listen in a truly present way, try a physical cue to stop yourself from interrupting other people or making assumptions. For example sit on your hands, cross your legs or hold your pen. This can be a cue to you to respond with a question, rather than a statement. 

Listen more deeply 

Listening deeply to someone with complete focus helps you to understand more about them – you start to see the story behind the words, the emotions conveyed by their body language, and what is at the heart of what they’re saying. 

You become ‘other people centric’ by listening to understand, rather than just listening to solve. How often have you been frustrated by a friend or partner when they’ve responded to your confession of a problem with an irrelevant solution? So often in our conversations we’re focused on solving someone’s problems, rather than just giving them a safe space to speak. 

If you are brutally honest with yourself, how well do you really listen to the important people in your life? And how well do you feel listened to? 

Dealing with discomfort

Worrying about an upcoming conversation? We’ve all been there. 

Whether it’s giving negative feedback on someone else’s work, negotiating a pay rise, or asking a housemate to do their share of the cleaning, uncomfortable conversations are just part of being human. 

Living a life on your own terms takes courage, which means sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone when you’re having conversations. Some of us struggle to say no or worry about whether or not people will like us. Or waste hours thinking about what the outcomes might be, but if we don’t have those difficult conversations, then we aren’t paving the way for real change. 

The power of no 

Sometimes we feel obligated to say yes – we want to be helpful, but it means we over-commit to tasks which drain our energy. Saying yes to help someone else is all well and good, but not if it’s taking away time from you to do the things that bring you joy and meaning.

Of course saying no can be awkward in the moment, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Say goodbye to resentment and hello to productive, meaningful opportunities. 

Focus on what you’ll gain, rather than what you’ll lose. 

Preparing for a tough conversation

If you’re more accustomed to being ‘nice and polite’ than having tough conversations, here are some ways to tackle them.

  1. Prepare: Preparation and thought ahead of the conversation mean you’ve got the information you need to answer potential questions and challenges. 
  2. Clear the decks: Try to start the conversation with a clear and open mind, rather than holding onto preconceived ideas and expectations. 
  3. Perspective: Remember why you’re there, and that feelings of discomfort are temporary. The experience is a path to growth. 

Timing: The longer you put off having the conversation, the more it takes on a life of its own as the expectation builds. Jump in and have the conversation now, rather than leaving it for months when it’s become irrelevant to the other party. 

Do you fear feedback? 

Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable and damage our self-confidence, but try taking yourself out of the process so you can accept feedback as information rather than a personal attack. By using feedback as a catalyst for change, it helps you to grow as a leader, and to continually improve your approach. Taking pride in your success, but also learning from your mistakes, are both hugely valuable. 

Ask for what you want and need

If you ask for what you need and want with clarity and purpose, then it provides opportunities for you to work collaboratively with others on a shared purpose. Asking for help and support does not mean you’re needy or a failure. In fact, when you ask someone to help you, quite often they feel needed, wanted and important as a result. So you both win. 

It’s important to ask for what you want, rather than assuming other people know or care about what is important to you. Be really clear about what you’re asking for. 

Create agreements rather than expectations 

When we set expectations which aren’t met, the result is blame and feelings of frustration and disappointment. But when we set agreements, we’re creating mutually agreeable arrangements, where both parties determine what is required and when it will be executive. The focus is on the how, what and when, and clearly outlining what the results need to be and what ‘done’ looks like. 

By articulating exactly what ‘done’ looks like to your teammates, partner or family members, you’re providing clarity to a conversation and giving people clear tasks to focus on. Agreements eliminate frustration and anger, as they give you more clarity and focus on how to move things forward. 

At the end of the day, we’re all humans and no two conversations will be the same. But when you go into each conversation with an open mind, open ears, and clarity around what is being agreed, you’re much more likely to walk away feeling fulfilled, or excited by the new opportunities which you’ve opened up.

About the Author

Danielle gives practical and informed tips on how to rewrite the gender code which creates pressures and limits our potential as women, and provides tools and strategies to create individual solutions for your unique context. If you would like to dig into this deeper you can purchase Danielle’s book, Breaking the Gender Code – which shows how women can use what they already have, to get what they actually want. 



When I ask people what their retirement dreams are, the answers tend to be simple. Most of us just want to have enough saved to live a comfortable life doing more of the things that we enjoy. But for many of us, particularly women who take significant time out of their careers to care for others, the idea of living a comfortable retirement can seem more like a stretch target than a certainty. So, let’s delve deeper into women’s super. 

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Some people love networking, others shudder at even the thought of it. While you may think that being an introvert is a drawback for those in business, it is actually an amazing quality for building relationships in business. Why? Because you are  focused on where you’re headed, and what you need — and less distracted by the superficial ‘noise’ around you.

So don’t let the world convince you that building strong relationships in business requires you to be an extrovert!

Amanda Rose founder of Small Business Women Australia, has put together her top tricks to build relationships and strategically connect when networking doesn’t come naturally — or even worse, you loathe it.

1. Build up a strong online presence

This is THE easiest way to build a network and have a profile without having to constantly be out and about networking. For business professionals, you should be aware of all mediums however focusing on a handful and doing it well will reap benefits. LinkedIn is a necessity for anyone in business. Others which are beneficial are Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

2. Video

This may sound weird as a recommendation for an introvert. However, it is often easier and more comfortable to video yourself and have it edited, then distribute it in a controlled environment, than to deal with strangers face to face. Further, the messages and pitches you polish for video will actually make it easier when you have to network face-to-face at some time.

3. Leverage media (print & online)

There are many websites that will accept your content without you having to leave your laptop. Content is king and distributing that content is queen. So ‘get your writing on’ and produce quality pieces of educational information in your area of expertise. You can also respond to media call-outs, contact media outlets and offer yourself as a commentator on an area you are passionate about and experienced in.

4. Network in small groups/informal events

When life and network groups get back to normal, keep your networking to small groups or one-on-one meetings. If you don’t know of any, create your own. Invite a handful of people out to lunch. The smaller the group, the more detailed and immersed the discussions are — and the stronger the connections will be.

5. Buddy up at large events

Large events can’t be avoided; and if you go, they need to be leveraged. If you are uncomfortable in large crowds with whom you’re expected to mingle, take a buddy along. Someone who can help you work the room, support conversations you have and help you connect with new people. Remember that everyone in that room is there to meet you and everyone else in that room. Enjoy the process. Learn what you can about the people you engage with. If you are uncomfortable talking about yourself, ask questions about them!

6. Master the follow-up

Don’t fall into the trap of the follow-up freeze. You stare at people’s business cards and start overthinking whether you should be following them up. And if you do, what do you have to say? Do they care? Will they even remember you? Stop this! For starters, they would not have connected with you at an event if they didn’t care about what you had to say or offer.

Secondly, always consider this. Make it as easy as possible for someone to work with you. Remember you are an expert in what you do so help others understand that by educating others on ways you can help them, including examples of what you have done before.