Most managers feel some reluctance when faced with having challenging conversations, according to Eryn Kalish, mediator, conflict resolution expert, and co-author of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Challenging Conversations program.
When this happens, a manager will sometimes shut down or withdraw from a situation instead of confronting it directly. While this strategy may keep the lid on a situation in the short term, the long-term damage is usually substantial with drops in productivity and morale due to ongoing conflict and disagreement. Whether the topic is delivering a difficult message, giving tough performance feedback, or confronting insensitive behavior, managers need to step into the “uncomfortableness.”
To help improve their ability to deal successfully with challenging conversations, Kalish recommends that managers incorporate five key skills into their conversations:
- Stating concerns directly. Speak up in a way that doesn’t alienate other people. Understand how to get at the essence of what’s important.
- Probing for more information to gain a deeper understanding. Learn how to get more information from someone who might be hesitant to talk. Learn how to gently, but firmly, probe and get somebody to speak out when it is going to serve them and the situation.
- Engaging others through whole-hearted listening. Be able to listen even when it is uncomfortable. Learn how to work with your reactions so that you can focus and understand what the other person is saying.
- Attending to body language. Pay attention to body language and be able to spot discrepancies between what you are hearing and what you are seeing. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting when somebody said everything was fine but his or her body language was saying that it is clearly not? Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh, good, everything is ok. Let’s move on.”
- Keeping forward focused, but only when everybody is ready to move forward. This can be a challenge for managers with a natural and usually positive bias for action. Learn to resist the urge to move forward prematurely. In challenging conversations the real issues often don’t come to light at first, and they can seep out in unhealthy ways later on.
You can read more of Kalish’s advice for dealing with stressful conversations in this month’s Blanchard Ignite newsletter. Also be sure to check out the complimentary November 17 webinar Kalish is conducting.