Imagine you are in your regular team meeting; everything is going to plan then the usual thing happens. John starts moaning. Off he goes on some rant about how a decision made by ‘them up there’ is ridiculous, impractical and shows how rubbish ‘they’ are. Everyone starts looking anywhere but at him, and your meeting gets derailed yet again. You know John needs a conversation, but are you brave enough?
These difficult conversations need skillful handling, and either turning the volume up or down on your usual behaviour. Those of us who rush at them, exasperated and angry, risk being too aggressive and argumentative. Those of us who are anxious and nervous risk waffling and sugar coating until there is a soggy mess where a meaningful conversation could have been.
So, what do we do? Here are some tips for having a robust conversation.
Start with Why? Your motive is really important and gives you the right to have the conversation. You must have a reason that aligns with your values around supporting and challenging your staff to benefit themselves, the team and your organisation. If you haven’t got your head in that place it could all go horribly wrong.
Explicitness – don’t faff about trying to hint at the problem or hit them straight between the eyes. A calm, clear statement about the behaviour you find unacceptable and the effect it has on you and perhaps others helps open up the conversation. ‘John, I’m concerned that in the meeting you were very negative about the decision we discussed. I find it disrespectful to senior management when you do this and I can see the rest of the team switching off.’
Listen – there is a saying that behind every negative action is a positive intent so listening is the way to discover this. There may not be of course, there may be a negative intent to the negative behaviour but at least you have shown willing to give a person the benefit of the doubt.
Confidence – showing you are confident that the situation can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction keeps it constructive and forward looking. ‘You are a really valued member of the team yet your tendency to moan lets you down, I’m sure we can find a way to address your concerns without creating a bad atmosphere’
Overcome barriers – very often people will light fires to deflect you from concentrating on the issue you have raised. Putting these fires out ensures you stay focussed and determined to sort the situation out.
Move forward – keep the conversation focused on steps to take to rectify the issue you have raised, work together to resolve the issue and agree the next steps. It also means that you do not descend into finding blame or judging someone for their actions.
Evaluate – make sure you watch for the change in behaviour, evaluate its impact and feedback the difference it has made. One difficult conversation often creates a much better relationship where respect and trust are consolidated.
It means the ‘Johns’ of the world get to improve their behaviours and you get a more productive working environment.