The reality of being a leader in an organisation is that you will, from time to time, have to have hard conversations with your employees. Whether having to let someone go or reflect on performance not delivered to a satisfactory level, it is an undeniably unpleasant experience. If you don’t excel at or relish managing these situations, here are a few quick tips to help get you through.
1. Don’t underestimate the value of silence or pauses.
This is applicable for both parties. Sometimes, in the event of breaking bad news, an employee may need a moment to compose themselves and their thoughts before they reply. We have a natural inclination to abhor silence, a compulsion to fill it - don’t. If you need a moment to say something, take that moment. If your employee needs a moment to manage emotion, give them that moment. Awkwardness in silence only comes from a flawed self perception that it must be filled. Wielding silence well gives the speaker gravitas and allows time for meaning to unfold, better heard for being framed by a measured pause.
2. Don’t shirk accountability
Be direct in assuming accountability for what is transpiring. Staving off responsibility, blaming people or events or creating us vs them mentalities is not productive in the long run and not becoming from a conversationalist. A hard conversation will be hard; there is no getting around that. By owning the difficult aspects of it, being accountable and being direct in the delivery of your message you will get a degree of engagement for the integrity of your accountability. Even if grudging, your employee will walk away with respect for your management of the conversation.
3. Stay calm
Whatever the situation, stay calm. As soon as you lose control of your emotion, you lose control of the conversation. Two conversationalists in a loss of emotion quickly descend into regrettable behaviour. By staying calm, even in the face of anger or unjust intolerance, means you can stick to your conversation process. Sometimes it may feel satisfying in the moment to meet aggression or defiance in equal measure, particularly in the case of a difficult employee, but giving into the temptation to use emotion precludes you from the clear thought required of leadership in difficult times.
Bonus tip on that last point - stay in control of your breathing to maintain calmness! Regulated and deliberate breaths prevent unhelpful physiological responses in stressful situations.