How to have challenging conversations in the workplace

How to have challenging conversations in the workplace

We’ve all been in a situation where we need to have a challenging conversation – whether it be with a direct report or a colleague. Often the more challenging conversations are around an employee’s behaviour such as swearing, speaking rudely to colleagues or clients etc. Having difficult conversations with an employee or encouraging your employees to have direct conversations with each other can seem overwhelming. However, it’s important to consider that some of these conversations can improve employee engagement. David Lee, Founder and Principal of HumanNature@Work cites that there are critical workplace conversations that lead to more engaged employees. Certainly, a lot of work needs to be done within a business to develop the type of culture where it is accepted and encouraged for employees to resolve issues at an early stage.

Challenging conversations in the workplace can increase employee engagement

How to have challenging conversations in the workplace

Rachael Robertson, in her book ‘No Triangles’ talks about the importance of staff being able to manage difficult situations themselves rather than going to a third party. When we go to a third party, says Robertson, we create a new set of problems. It indicates that we don’t have the courage to face the original party and that we don’t have the courage to have an open and honest conversation. We also involve another party who may not have wanted to become involved in the first place.

So how do you build a culture within your organisation where challenging conversations are encouraged? Louise Meilak, HR Consultant at Flexi Personnel, advises that you need to develop a culture that encourages open communication and developing policies and procedures around behaviour and communication in the workplace can assist. This might mean drafting polices as part of an employee’s Welcome Pack when they commence in a role. It also involves communicating the process around both giving and receiving honest feedback. An example of this is a simple process that employees can follow:

  1. Seek permission to have a challenging conversation

Louise says that it is best to advise a staff member that you have some feedback to share with them. Give them prior notice of the conversation and work together with them to select a time and place that works for them. That way, they feel more prepared and will be more able to accept the feedback.

2.   Communicate the feedback in a simple and concise manner

It’s important that you take responsibility for the feedback. It is best to provide clear feedback to the individual involved by giving clear examples and without involving anyone else in the business. Make it clear that the feedback is given with an objective of improvement and that throughout an individual’s working career, they will receive both positive and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis.

3.   Develop an agreement

If the intention of the feedback is for the individual to make a change, it’s important to ask them how they will go about making the required changed and for them to agree to a timeframe in which it will be made. If the staff member needs help with this process, an HR Manager can support them.

Most importantly business leaders need to model these behaviours in the workplace. One way to do this is for managers to seek feedback from employees on what they would like you to stop, start or continue doing. Using the ‘Stop, start, continue’ website, you can develop a survey and ask a group of people to complete it asking them what they would like you to stop, start and continue doing in your role. This could also involve general office behaviour.

If you would like assistance developing a program that enables your employees to have challenging conversations in the workplace, contact the HR Consulting team at Flexi Personnel.