If those words make you squirm a little, you’re not alone!
Conflict avoidance happens all the time – sometimes we change the subject, put off a discussion until later, or simply decide not to bring up the real issues. However, healthy conflict is necessary in all relationships.
In this post, we’ll share:
- the most common difficult conversations between managers/owners and employees
- major consequences of NOT having these hard conversations
- six secrets to successfully handle difficult conversations
* If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast interview on this topic with Natalie Remund and Debbie Kaminski of “Goodbye Past…Hello Purpose.”
Difficult topics for managers/owners to bring up with employees
We can clearly see the problem, but it’s difficult to directly approach the employee to discuss it.
Soft skills/people skills issues
If the employee is “good” at the technical part of their job, we might avoid this issue because we tell ourselves that their attitude is not as important as their technical skills. This includes negative attitudes with co-workers or customers. However, not dealing with the situation may escalate it to the point of needing to terminate the employee.
Dress code or hygiene issues
Often arising from complaints of co-workers, these issues need to be addressed with a high degree of sensitivity. Having an employee handbook which addresses dress code and hygiene can help you remain objective when addressing the issue.
Difficult topics for employees to bring up with owners/managers
Since this usually involves requesting an increase, you don’t want to sound like you’re whining or complaining about what you currently have.
Because this is an extremely difficult conversation to have, employees may end up just quitting a position instead. According to Gallup research, the top predictor of turnover is employees having issues with their immediate supervisor. Gallup’s State of the American Manager report finds that one in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager. Hence, the saying: “People don’t quit jobs , they quit bosses.“
If an employee thinks that the company has violated an ethical standard, they may feel like they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They know that the right thing to do is to speak up but they might not know how to do so without fear of retaliation.
Consequences of NOT having difficult conversations
Failure to address conflict and have the difficult conversations can have devastating effects on your organization.
Employees are more likely to:
- Change jobs. This results in higher employee turnover, which is costly for the business
- Gossip among coworkers or spread negative information online to friends, family, and acquaintances. Company culture may disintegrate, as a result.
- Interact negatively with customers. Sooner or later, this will hit your bottom line.
Remember that issues will most likely repeat themselves if not addressed!
Six secrets for success in difficult conversations
First of all, as an owner or manager of employees, acknowledge that difficulties will arise. When two or more people work together, conflict is inevitable.
Use these six strategies for dealing with conflict to help you address a difficult topic instead of avoiding it:
1 – Cultivate a company culture that encourages open communication.
Tangible ways to accomplish this include: regular staff meetings, check-ins, or one-on-ones; a suggestion box for employees to vent frustrations anonymously; and manager training on how to be a leader. Learn to model ways of coming to a place of common understanding.
2 – Open the conversation gently.
You could use words or phrases such as, “Something has been bothering me that we need to talk about.”
Or, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Reflecting on and taking responsibility for what we think and feel prevents us from blaming others. For example – instead of “you always get to work late and that makes it difficult for everyone else,” you could say “when people arrive late, I feel frustrated because we’re not able to get going on our day right away.”
3 – Keep it objective.
Don’t make it too personal; make it about the action, not about them as a person. Refer to their job description or your employee handbook.
4 – Keep it positive.
Be sure to reaffirm what the employee is doing right.
5 – Understand that everything may not be resolved in the first conversation.
For this reason, it is important to document your conversations. If you set some benchmarks or goals, you can refer to progress made in future conversations.
6 – Do it with heart.
Our job as a manager is to help our employees be the best that they can be. We want our employees to be successful and grow. Realize that everyone comes into a job with a different set of expectations and experiences, based upon their previous jobs and their personal life. Be willing to dig deeper; maybe you’ll find out something you didn’t know. You don’t need to be rigid if you can be flexible. Keep an attitude of “help me to understand.”
Recently, our team read and discussed Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead at our monthly staff meetings. She shares about leading with compassion and offers this advice for how to approach difficult situations with kindness:
I know my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.”
We hope these tips have given you the confidence to step into difficult conversations, rather than avoid them. The future success of your business depends on it!