3 simple tips for navigating difficult conversations with employees
Let’s start by recognizing that we are not you. We do not know your situation, the challenges you face or the best practices your organization uses.
What we do know is communication and specifically an evidence based practice called Motivational Interviewing. Knowing this skill set allows us to look at communication from a different lens, one focused on behavior change outcomes. It is from this lens that we offer the following tips for having difficult conversations with employees.
As a leader, you handle tough conversations every day. Whether the conversations are about keeping the organization focused or helping groom new leaders, you know how to navigate many of these conversations. On occasion there are times where you might want to work on your communication skills and try to improve your communication to create the best outcome.
So today, we are going to talk through 3 simple tips for navigating difficult conversations with employees.
First let’s discuss why you might be having these challenging conversations. Here are some common reasons these conversations might come up:
- Not meeting expectations
- Company is making changes
- Discounting company policies
- Being unprofessional in the workplace
- Missing team meetings
- Challenges with team members
No matter what the reason is, you are preparing to sit down and have a conversation that is not going to be the most “fun” so let’s go over 3 tips that can help you prepare.
- Have Empathy.
This can be tough! It’s hard to slow down and see another person’s point of view when all you are thinking about is what you need to say to them. Empathy is key to creating and keeping engagement with your employees. No matter the reason you are having this conversation, slow down to think about what is going on in their world.
Are they showing up late suddenly? Are they ignoring company policies as of late? Are they missing team meetings? Being unprofessional? Whatever the case may be, what is going on in their world? Just because we slow down to recognize what is on their plate, doesn’t mean we condone their behavior but it’s a step closer to getting engagement so we can solve the problem and move forward.
Communication challenge: Before you start the conversation, take a deep breathe, think about your employee, and think about what COULD be going on in their world. Take a moment to prepare to see what the challenge you are facing as a leader, could be from their point of view.
2.)Focus on values
Everyone has values, the organization has values, we have pro-social values. Values are the things that drive us and unite us. Most people could say staying connected to family is important. Not only does that drive people, it also unites a lot of people. Living a life of integrity is important to many people also. The key difference here is everyone might want a life of integrity, but we might have different ways of living that out on a day-to-day basis. One person might say living a life of integrity is showing up to work on time, while another displays this value by being honest.
The point being, focus on values, what is driving their behavior and how do they want to live that out.
Please note: Let’s say you have a employee that values fairness and they are late to work all the time. It is not your job to point out the discrepancy in their values and behavior. (If you do that, you will get a lot of defensiveness and blaming) Again, they might live out the value of fairness a different way. However, you can use fairness to then start a conversation about what this value means and how it could look in the workplace.
“One thing I keep hearing you say is how important it is to be fair to those around you. This is clearly very important to you and something you think about a lot. What are some ways you live out your values in the workplace?”
Communication challenge: During your conversation, remember that every person is different, and everyone values different things. Slow down and find out what they value, and or what your company values together. Just taking the time to talk about values and what is most important to them, will create engagement with your employee and create a positive experience.
3.)Create a plan to move forward
It’s easy as a leader to come to the table with a plan in our heads to move forward. But when you partner together, and brainstorm together how to move forward with your employee, that is empowering! Change is hard enough on everyone but change that is dictated vs. change that is owned are 2 very different things.
So instead of sharing your plan, start by trying to engage their executive functioning to create a plan.
Here are some sample questions to use after you’ve taken time to Listen, empathize and focus on their values.
“Given that you really value contribution, what are some ways you’ve thought of to contribute to the team?”
“You’ve talked a lot about quality of life, both at home and at work. What’s your best-case scenario on how to manage both your work responsibilities and your home responsibilities?”
“Integrity is really important to you, and you want to display that here at work. When we think about X problem, what’s one way to handle it in an integrys way?”
“Autonomy is part of your life, you handle things really well on your own, but we also want to work as a team, so what are some ways you can involve the team in your process? That way you can still work independently, but we can all be a part of the process.”
“Given all we’ve talked about what are the options you see to move forward?”
Communication challenge: We all have good ideas, and we might think we have the perfect plan to move forward, but before you blurt it out. Slow down, try to engage your employee in the next steps moving forward first. You might be surprised at what they come up with and how it might align better for them and for you and your organization.
To learn more about Motivational Interviewing, join our Introduction to Motivational Interviewing class where you learn about roadblocks to communication, the physics of Communication as well as Motivational Interviewing.