Part of a manager’s role – a potentially unpleasant one – is the need to have difficult conversations with the staff you oversee. We all hope for good relations and teamwork in the workplace, but sometimes things don’t go to plan. And one of the areas that falls squarely within a manager’s remit is discipline.

We’ve all seen employees who are unmotivated, late or lack focus. Even more challenging are those with personal issues:  problematic interactions with colleagues or bad personal hygiene.

The buck stops with you, as a manager, to intervene; and that means having “the difficult conversation”.

So what should you know?

Online management and leadership training provider, MindTools.com surveyed 15,242 managers and professionals worldwide.

Some 42% valued tact as one of the most important tools for managing difficult situations in the workplace. And almost 60% valued dealing with poor performance effectively, with half prizing the skill to deal with poor behaviour. MindTools.com founder and CEO James Manktelow has some practical advice to help you when you have to step in.

  • Prepare appropriately: Chat through your approach with an “emotionally intelligent” colleague, Manktelow advises, thinking about how what your team-member is likely to be thinking and feeling in your conversation.
  • Use role-play to plan the conversation: You could even take it a step further by role-playing, swapping roles and acting out different scenarios. Discuss what you have learnt to maximise the benefit.
  • Right time, right place: Choose an appropriate place to talk, whether it is a meeting room, breakout area or even a café away from the office. And try to think about what your colleague might be going through. Manktelow says, “If he or she is in the middle of dealing with a highly emotional or difficult situation, it may not be the best time to have a discussion.” In other words, pick your moment with thoughtfulness, while having regard to the needs of your team and organisation.
  • Watch the body language – yours and theirs: Be open in your gestures, make eye contact and don’t cross your arms or legs. Says Mankteolow: “Open body language and a courteous vocal tone communicate your truthfulness and willingness to work together.” Similarly, be aware of your colleague’s body language; watch for lack of eye contact, defensive posture or even physically turning away from you. “By picking up on these signs, you can change what you say or how you say it to help the other person feel more at ease and more receptive to what you are saying,” Manktelow points out.
  • Keep your emotions in check: Finally, remember, you are the one who is in a position of authority. Stay calm and bite your tongue to give yourself time to respond professionally, even if the other person is becoming angry or upset.

Holding these difficult conversations is an unfortunate but unavoidable part of a manager’s duties. By following these tips, you can ensure it is the least unpleasant that it can be.

Sometimes, you’ll be surprised to discover that things go far better than expected, with a positive outcome and a renewed vigour for the role.

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