As a leader in your organization, it is inevitable that you will have to make some difficult decisions. Difficult decisions come with difficult conversations. Unless you are on a reality show getting paid to confront your “co-stars,” confrontation is uncomfortable. However, avoiding or delaying difficult conversations will only hurt you, your team, and ultimately your customers. We call that a “Triple-Lose.” Here are a few tips for making a difficult conversation a “Triple-Win”:
- Create a Plan Before Conflict Arises: Everyone likes to be given feedback differently. Some people prefer real-time, direct feedback—meaning they want to know exactly what they are doing wrong (or right), when they are doing it. Some people prefer feedback to be written, rather than face-to-face—so they have time to digest. Many people prefer the CRC-method, which is Commend, Recommend, Commend. Meaning they want to hear something positive before and after the hard feedback. Knowing how your team likes to receive feedback will increase the likelihood that they react well to the feedback.
- Don’t Delay: We often delay difficult conversations because we want to avoid the awkward or we think whatever the issue is will resolve itself. How many times have you told yourself, “So and so is just having a bad day.” But that bad day turns into a bad week or month? If you wait too long to have the conversation, it won’t be as impactful. For example, if someone has been coming in 5 minutes late every day for the past couple weeks and you finally confront them about it, they won’t take it as seriously because you seemingly haven’t noticed or cared before. So why now?
- Go in with Positive Intentions: If you go in ready for a fight, or tell yourself it’s going to be a disaster, it most likely will be. Instead, approach the conversation with an open mind and the intention of a positive outcome, such as building a stronger relationship or helping the other person succeed.
- Stick to the Topic: If you are meeting with your call-taker about not booking enough calls, don’t bring up that they burned popcorn in the break-room last week. Bringing up issues or complaints related to other topics or past events takes away from the current conversation and comes off more as a personal attack.
- Drop Your Assumptions: Peoples’ feelings and situations change. Just because you think you know what’s going on, don’t assume.
- Focus on Listening, Not Talking: When we think about having a difficult conversation, we often think about leading the conversation and what we are going to say. This approach makes the conversation very one-sided, which usually puts the other person on the defense. Instead, approach the person by asking neutral and supportive questions. For example, if you have an employee that has been having a lot of service-fee only calls, say, “I’ve noticed you’ve had more service-fee only calls than usual, tell me about what challenges you are facing.” Then listen. Pause. Be interested and proactive. Gather as much detail as possible. Ask follow-up questions without blame.
Your genuine attention and neutrality encourage people to elaborate. For every statement the other person makes, mirror back what they’ve said, to validate that you understand them correctly.
Ultimately, you cannot control how the other person(s) will react to your efforts to engage them in challenging but necessary conversations. However, using these tips will help you maximize the chances that the conversation will serve its intended purpose.