Learn to Navigate Difficult Conversations at Work
It’s never easy to have the “difficult conversations” at work. But sometimes it’s best to get things out in the open so they can be resolved and everyone can move forward productively. What kinds of conversations are we talking about? Things like asking for a pay raise, discussing a disappointing performance review, working with a team member that doesn’t pull his/her weight or feeling micro-managed by your boss at every turn.
As you grow and mature in your profession, you will have to navigate all kinds of tough situations and avoiding it can actually have a pretty negative effect on your team as well as your career progression. Instead of dodging it, find the courage to handle the situation with empathy and skill.
Fight the fear and consider these tips:
- Be clear about the issue. Take the time to think about what you need to discuss and do your homework. If you’re looking for an increase in pay, look around on the internet at similar positions and see what others are paying. Identify what responsibilities you have and how they compare, as well as time on the job, education, etc.
- Figure out what outcome you’re looking for. What can you do and what do you need your boss to do to make it better? Then, once you have your discussion, you can come away with clearly expressed action items. Make sure you understand what you/they are agreeing to do and how you’ll evaluate your progress.
- Be open. Have an attitude of curiosity. Listen to what the other person has to say without judging or having pre-conceived ideas. If you can remain open, you won’t jump to conclusions before you truly understand the other person’s point of view.
- Remain calm. Getting emotional can lead to disaster. If you’re already annoyed, don’t let it escalate to anger and rage. Keep your head and discuss the issue calmly.
- Stick to the facts. This goes along with the tip above. Be specific about what is happening and do it respectfully. If it’s about an incident with a co-worker, name the time/place and situation. Don’t just make general statements about how “no one does his part” or the “department stinks.”
- If you’re asking for your boss’s time, be sure to make an appointment for a time that works for both of you. Don’t ambush him/her publicly to air a grievance or ask for a raise, a promotion or a better shift. You’ll want to meet privately in a neutral place that sets the stage for a productive discussion.
- Focus on positives. Even if you are struggling with a co-worker and need to discuss it, try to point out some good things about the person. Maybe she’s always on time, or never misses a shift. Acknowledge the good news before diving into the problem areas.
- Have a solution in mind. If there’s a problem with the team or you need make some changes, come armed with some ideas to discuss. It shows that you’re considering ways to correct a problem and gives your boss something to work with.
- Ask for the other person’s perspective and then listen. What does she think of the situation and what are her thoughts? Ask for clarification if you need it. You may find that you have a completely different impression of what is happening that the person you’re dealing with.
- If you’re having a problem with the way you’re managed, it can be tricky. Take time to write down what the problem is and have some examples to share. When you ask for a time to meet, you might mention that you feel you’ve failed to connect with him/her or perhaps are not meeting expectations. This will give him/her time to reflect on the topic before the meeting and not feel blind-sided. Be sure to use “I” statements about how you reacted to specific instances. Then be sure you’re ready to answer the question: “what do you want me to do about it?”
- What if you want to quit the job? Be sure you don’t burn any bridges. Never leave without giving notice so you don’t leave them in the lurch. Be generous in offering to train your replacement and don’t complain or speak badly about your boss, the department or the company. Be sure to thank them for the opportunity to work there and for the experience you’ve gained. It’s a small world and you may end up working together again in the future.