Leaders are confronted with difficult situations every day, but one situation that people often struggle with more than most is having a difficult conversation with a team member. These conversations can be uncomfortable, awkward, and emotional. We’ve all heard a story, or two, about a horrible experience/conversation at work.
Learning how to have these difficult conversations in a constructive way is crucial to navigating this sensitive area. Training programs like CMOE’s Courageous Conversations workshop or self-help books on the topic are great ways to learn techniques for having these types of conversations. We’ve also compiled a list of five types of courageous conversations that every leader will need to have at some point.
- Smelly Team Member – Working with an employee who has poor hygiene can be hard to handle. This is a sensitive subject because personal hygiene is so It can be uncomfortable to tell someone that their breath stinks, that they have body odor, or that they need shave their facial hair—especially if the facial hair in question is on a woman. Sometimes, medical conditions come into play here, and it’s important to handle these issues with tact.
- Extreme Honesty – We’ve all been told that “honesty is the best policy,” but sometimes that just isn’t true. People who are brutally honest—to the point of being insensitive, tactless, or just plain mean—can cut their coworkers right to the core. Having a conversation with employees who are overly honest can be difficult. They may believe that they’re doing their coworkers a service by telling them the unvarnished truth. Help them realize that the way a message is conveyed is powerful, and that a little bit of finesse and sensitivity when sharing that message can go a long way towards ensuring that relationships aren’t damaged in the process.
- Terminating Employment – Firing someone is one of the hardest conversations that you will have in your career. Usually, employees will already be aware that their continued employment is at risk due to poor performance or other issues. Impending termination should never be a surprise. However, knowing that it’s coming doesn’t make this type of conversation any easier for either side.
- Reliability – We would all love to work in companies where deadlines are never missed and mistakes are never made, but that just isn’t realistic. When an employee lets you or the team down in this way, it’s your job as a manager to find out what happened, what went wrong, and what needs to change so it doesn’t happen again. Often, the most trying part of this conversation is watching people attempt to redirect blame by pointing their fingers at someone else. Stay focused on preventing the problem from happening again by courageously and objectively sifting through the facts and discovering the root cause of the problem.
- Poor Performance – Talking to employees about performance issues can be painful, especially if they’re not aware that their performance is marginal. During this kind of conversation, it will help to explain what you’ve noticed, ask questions about what is going on, and develop a game plan for how to make improvements. To ensure that this conversation makes a long-term impact, following up is crucial. If your employees know you will check in regularly and hold them accountable for making the needed changes, they’ll be more likely to stick to the plan and improve their performance.