Tackling Tough Workplace Conversations

Regardless of your position or title, participating in tough conversations at work comes with the job. As an engaged employee, it is your responsibility to address and rectify these challenges as they arise to keep things running as smoothly as possible.

Tough topics are diverse in circumstance. Anything from poor work performance, inappropriate workplace behavior, emotional reactions, mental health stresses, verbal/sexual harassment and layoffs or terminations call for serious conversations that require effort and an effective communication strategy.

Although tackling tough topics in the workplace comes with the territory of being a servant leader, it isn’t always an easy task. Use these four tips to constructively handle these conversations in order to maintain a healthy and productive work environment.

Prepare the Right Way

Any difficult conversation will require proper preparation. From understanding the people involved to deciphering fact from fiction, you’ll need to enter the conversation with the correct talking points. While preparing, find the answers to these questions to enter the conversation having all the facts at hand.

  1. What is the root of the situation? 
  2. Who all was involved?
  3. What exactly happened from beginning, middle to end? 
  4. What were the intentions of the actions? 

Another important aspect during the preparation process is to analyze the identities and personalities of those on the other end of the conversation. 

  1. In nature, are they passionate or reserved? 
  2. What is their intention of talking to you?
  3. Do they take constructive criticism well? 

The answers to these questions will help you approach the conversation without triggering negative reactions – ultimately leading to constructive dialogue.

Actively Listen With a Neutral Perspective

If you’re tackling a serious issue, you’ll want all parties involved to feel confident that you – the one leading the talk  – are remaining neutral through the conversation process. Don’t take sides or be quick to relay your personal opinions on the matter. In order to do this, you’ll need to practice active listening, which helps you understand the message that is being relayed rather than just hearing.

Active listening is especially beneficial in situations where someone is dissatisfied with the responsibilities of their role or has a problem with another employee. Don’t only listen intently, but let them know you are listening intently with nonverbal cues, responses and eye contact. Ask follow-up questions. Share your own viewpoints and past experiences and, most importantly, refrain from making assumptions or accusations.

This way, your colleague will feel comfortable with you and the conversation taking place.

Take Feelings into Account

The feelings and emotions of your colleagues always matter during challenging conversations.  When emotions aren’t taken into account, a clear lack of healthy dialogue tends to cause an unhealthy workplace environment. In order to feel comfortable talking to you, people need to feel confident that you value their emotions.

In performance-related discussions, be wary to walk a fine line between relaying the message that needs to be said without overdoing it and subsequently hurting feelings in the process. As mentioned earlier, understanding the identity of the person you are speaking to will help you know where to draw the line. Some can take constructive criticism better than others, and that’s completely OK.

When it pertains to mental health, remember that emotions sometimes cannot be understood. Other people are often fighting internal battles that we know nothing about, so approach conversations with a delicate balance of affirmative empathy while working to find a solution. 

Strive to Solve Problems

The whole point of tackling tough topics at work is to solve the problem at hand. Do your best to find a resolution that alleviates the concerns of each side. Sometimes that’s impossible, but making efforts to help all parties involved will go a long way toward professional relationship building.

For example, after informing a colleague that they aren’t ready for a promotion they were hoping for, thank them for their desire to improve and implement monthly check-in meetings where the two of you will review their progress toward one day earning that promotion.

It will keep them happy, motivated and confident that you care about their growth.