Planning for a difficult conversation

Today, I will share with you some tips on how to prepare to have a difficult conversation in your workplace - effective planning can lay a good foundation toward positive outcomes.

Last week, we looked at why difficult conversations are sometimes needed in the workplace, if you missed it click here to read now.

The first thing you need to do is ensure you have a clear understanding of the problem that you want to resolve – what do you want to achieve from the conversation? (e.g., an improvement in performance or change in behaviour) Why is this important to you? Is the outcome you are seeking realistic? Make sure you actually jot these things down.

The second step is so important before having any conversation – check your facts! If the problem is regarding worked hours, for example, ensure you have a thorough understanding of the relevant workplace agreement or award – seek professional advice if needed. You will also need to have diarised specific instances of the behaviour you are addressing and other relevant information. When you are gathering this relevant information, take time to reflect yourself why this particular behaviour is occurring – have you misread the situation? Are there things happening from the employee’s perspective you don’t know about? If you enter the conversation with an open mind, you will achieve more positive results.

We now start thinking about the “nitty gritty” of the difficult conversation - the time & place! Here are some tips:

  • Schedule the conversation so you will have it face to face – no email or phone calls. It may be in the workplace or it may need to be offsite. Make sure the location is private where other people are not in earshot.
  • Think about your physical language – sitting on one side of your desk with the staff member on the other is not the best practice in this situation. If possible, arrange the seating so you are sitting next to them or at least without a barrier between (i.e. desk). This is less threatening.
  • Make sure your conversation will not be interrupted. Turn your phones on silent, put your computer into sleep mode or minimise applications (e.g., email) that might prove to be distracting. If you are located in your office, put a sign on the door that says “meeting in progress”.
  • Allow plenty of time for the conversation – don’t sandwich it between other meetings or client appointments. You don’t want to risk running late to start or rushing to get it finished before your next commitment.
  • You need to actually make the appointment with the employee, and provide some explanation for the conversation so they can prepare. They will probably be concerned and may feel some stress – so make sure you use non-threatening language.
    For example:
    Instead of “I am concerned about a few things with your leave requests, we need to chat – I’ll see you at 2.00pm in my office”
    Try “I think we have different thoughts about leave requests – I would love your feedback on this…are you free this afternoon at 2.00pm?”

The final thought when preparing for your difficult conversation is if your employee will request a support person for the conversation. You might already have stipulated in your practice policies & procedures that employees can choose a support person for any workplace matters or conversations – who should that person be? Have you clearly outlined the role of that support person? You need to ensure that this is really well documented prior to scheduling the conversation. The Fair Work Act states that employees are entitled to have a support person present during a meeting related to performance management, investigations, and disciplinary action - so make sure your workplace policies and procedures address this requirement.

I hope the above tips help you feel more confident when planning for difficult conversations in your workplace – next week we finish our three-part series with tips on how to HAVE the conversation – and the skills you will need to achieve a positive outcome.

Have a great week.

Planning, Staffing, Culture

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