How to Have Hard Conversations With Employees

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Whether in the middle or on the fringes, almost everyone has experienced work dramas. It can be a challenge to manage appropriate boundaries and balance the office’s social dynamics. Luckily, with a little planning and preparation, you can handle difficult performance reviews.

If you prepare for difficult conversations, you’ll avoid making major missteps, regardless of how the other person reacts. Here are eight tips to prepare you for the tough conversation with a coworker.

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1. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the interview

First and foremost, decide what you want to say. Make sure you are certain of your desired outcomes for the conversation before anyone starts speaking. You can also mentally remind yourself of the boundaries of a professional relationship to resist the temptation to take everything personally and to maintain an appropriate environment.

Think about why you say what you want to say and seriously put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. It’s up to you not only to lead the conversation, but to set a tone for it.

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2. Make a list of the items you want to cover

Difficult conversations can quickly get out of hand. You will be surprised how easy it is to forget something important that you wanted to mention. Making a key points list will help you clarify your goals and lead the conversation the way you want it to be.

A clear understanding of what you want to cover will improve your conversation and help avoid missteps. No matter how the chat goes, a roadmap will ensure you leave the conversation satisfied that you said everything you wanted to.

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3. Anticipate potential questions and objections

Whether the conversation is difficult because of the topic or the person you’re having it with, it’s best to prepare for any type of resistance that might arise. If you think about how the other person might be feeling and reacting, you’ll be better prepared. It also helps you develop more empathy for your co-worker. Think about how you would react if someone approached you with this conversation. Better yet, practice the conversation with a friend or colleague and ask their opinion.

4. Remain calm and respectful

The person you are speaking to will follow your lead. When you maintain a calm personality and speak respectfully, you are communicating that you expect the same in return. In addition, it helps to maintain professional boundaries and ensure successful communication. Even if a conflict arises during the conversation, consciously remain calm. This will help encourage your co-worker to do the same and de-escalate the situation. There is no need for the conversation to turn into a fight. Keep calm and it won’t.

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5. End the conversation on a positive note

Regardless of how difficult the conversation is, the best thing you can do for yourself and your conversation partner is to end the conversation on a positive note. Whether it’s highlighting a silver lining or emphasizing your appreciation for what went well, try to finish by focusing on the positive. Remind your co-worker that you two are part of a team and you need to rely on each other.

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6. Follow up after the meeting with a memo or email detailing next steps

Following up after a difficult conversation ensures that you are both on the same page and aware of what is about to happen in the future. This will also encourage an active line of communication and help relieve any tension that may have arisen during the conversation. You want your employee to know what you expect from them and what to do next. This will also further justify the talk in the mind of the worker.

7. Give team members time to digest what has been said and offer support if needed

While you have the opportunity to prepare for and reflect on the conversation, your interlocutor may feel out of nowhere. Give them time to digest your words and ask questions so they feel heard. Giving them space to respond also helps you know how best to support them. Ask them what they need and make sure they know you’re available to support them.

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8. Get opinions and feedback from other managers or HR professionals

One of the best ways to prepare for a difficult conversation is to ask for input from people you know and trust. Have the conversation with them and consider their suggestions. You might gain a new perspective or think of something you didn’t have before.

Preparing for your interview will give you the confidence you need to face the situation successfully. However, the best thing you can do for yourself is keep an eye on the person on the other side of the conversation. Finding ways to connect with the people you work with can be difficult. However, finding common ground and empathizing with team members will make any difficult conversation easier.

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