Sooner or later, every manager must have an awkward, uncomfortable, or even painful conversation.
Maybe someone on your team is underperforming. Maybe you need to share news of resourcing cuts amid the Covid-19 epidemic. Or maybe you simply need to talk frankly about the difficult issues roiling today's workplaces, from racial inequity to the challenges posed by telecommuting.
If you're like most managers, you'll feel tempted to put the problem off to another day—but you also know that delaying a necessary conversation will only make matters worse. So the next time you feel yourself dreading an upcoming conversation, try these tactics to help you recognize your discomfort, push through it, and plan your conversation productively and empathetically.
The rest of the tips below are things you might do to alleviate your discomfort. But before you can do that, you must sit with the discomfort long enough to notice it and analyze it. Having the courage to sit through the discomfort you feel serves as an enabler to have productive conversations.
Go deeper than "it's my job" or "senior leadership told me to." To find your reason to engage in tough conversations:
Leaders sometimes stay on the curb because they anticipate the pain or loss associated with a tough conversation, and this pain or loss is relatively tangible (such as awkwardness or strained relationships). Simultaneously, leaders often have trouble envisioning the benefits of tough conversations because these are relatively invisible. (After all, you'll never be able to prove that you reduced turnover by choosing to have a conversation at this time.)
To combat this "invisible benefits problem:"
Often, we easily conceptualize the pain of action while minimizing the pain of inaction. To combat this, outline what would happen if you don't engage in the conversation. What are the consequences for you, your leadership reputation, and your team? For example, people might feel undervalued or unseen, or they might get the impression that you don't care. Often, these risks of inaction compare favorably to the costs of action.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck pioneered the idea that a growth (as opposed to a fixed) mindset is key to success. Tough conversations benefit from a growth mindset: Persist in the face of setbacks, learn from criticism, and see effort as a path to mastery.
Once you've identified your discomfort, pinned down your values-based reason to act, clarified the benefits and risks of moving forward, and accepted the challenge, your next step is to actually have the tough conversation. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we'll dive into specific tools and tactics to make the conversation more open, honest, and productive.
Create your free account to access 2 resources each month, including the latest research and webinars.
You have 2 free members-only resources remaining this month remaining this month.
Never miss out on the latest innovative health care content tailored to you.