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4 tips for tough conversations with your employees

Sarah K. White | Sept. 22, 2016
Chances are if you haven't already had a difficult conversation at work, you will at some point. But these conversations don't have to be stressful. With a little effort, they can be productive and carry long-term benefits.

"Be real, be genuine, demonstrate good will and emotional intelligence by sharing something about yourself in the context of the project or initiative you're working on," says Abbatiello.

Offer coaching and training

Management skills won't come naturally to everyone - and if you hire the right people for management roles, they'll be better equipped to learn how to handle this area of managing workers.

"Not all managers inherently have the coaching skills necessary to make difficult conversations productive. Likewise, employees automatically feel powerless and defensive before the meeting has even begun," says Sandhir.

When you hire managers or promote workers to management positions, you want to make sure you get them the right coaching and training. Especially if it's a first time manager, they'll have to deal with situations they have never been in before, and you want to make sure they're as prepared as possible.

In fact, Abbatiello says that, when considering employees for management, businesses should start focusing on an employee's management potential based off their emotional intelligence rather than their capabilities.

"At Deloitte, we define 'what you can do' as a capability and differentiate this with 'how fast you can go', which we call potential. An individual with a high degree of leadership potential can quickly ramp up to assume roles that require greater levels and degrees of complexity," says Abbatiello.

It can be easy to get stuck in a trap where you keep promoting people based off performance and merit -- and that's great for most roles, but management requires a certain level of self-awareness and personality.

Involve your employees

Employees are at their best when they're engaged, and a big part of employee engagement is keeping them involved in important conversations. The same goes for when you're having a tough conversation -- and a good way to help your workers feel engaged, even in tough moments is by reframing the discussion. Instead of approaching the conversation as a lecture, or admonishment, focus it as a "key development opportunity," says Abbatiello.

Give your employees acknowledgements in the areas they excel, and then focus on where they could improve, emphasizing how it will benefit their career in the long run. Seeing how certain skills could help them move up, or even get a raise, will help them feel more motivated and less attacked.

Sandhir says that if you can foster an environment where "conversations and feedback are continuous," your employees will feel more engaged even in tough moments. Ensure you have all the resources in place so that employees feel their voices are heard and that they can be honest with management in a professional context. "Give them the tools to initiate continuous conversations with their managers. When managers are trained how to be better coaches and employees direct their own development, difficult conversations should be few and far between," he says.


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