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How Do Managers Train to Have Difficult Conversations?

As a manager, you’ll likely encounter a number of situations with which you’ll need to have a difficult conversation.  A few examples of difficult conversations with employees might be providing feedback following an incident, discussing poor performance or tardiness, or even conflict resolution within your team.  Regardless of the reason, you’ll want to be prepared to handle the conversation professionally while also remaining empathetic to the person you’re meeting with. 

What are the 4 D’s of a difficult conversation?

Another important thing to understand about navigating difficult conversations are the 4 D’s or discover, define, discuss and decide.  Let’s dive into this a little further.  

  • Discover: Understand the root cause of the issue (as best you can) before approaching the conversation.
  • Define: To ensure that you aren’t placing any unnecessary blame, address the problem clearly.
  • Discuss: A conversation involves more than one person so leave the dialogue open to hear and consider all perspectives.
  • Decide: In the end, you may not agree on the issue at hand, but it’s important that each of you agree on the resolution or at least the next steps to take.  

How do you teach difficult conversations at work?

Training on managing difficult conversations involves understanding these conversations for what they are and removing the focus away from what they are not.  It’s not about who is right or wrong, it’s about getting results and making positive changes in the workplace.  Leading by example is the best way you, as a manager, can teach difficult conversations to your team. 

If you are able to handle these situations fairly, honestly, empathetically and professionally, it can bridge the gap between your team and leadership, opening lines of communication so employees feel comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

How to have a difficult conversation with an employee about their attitude.

Obviously, if you need to have a difficult conversation with an employee about their attitude, you’re already going into this knowing that behavior is a problem.  You’ll want to stay on track so again, preparation is key.  Remember what we said above about keeping your own emotions in check.  This is about improving behaviors which will, in turn, make for better performance and build relationships within your team.  Having those things in mind along with a positive attitude, will go a long way.  Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid attacking personality.
  • Be direct, specific and provide examples.
  • End on a positive note, discussing solutions and setting up a time to reconnect after the meeting.

This vital part of training will not only enhance the interpersonal relationships within your team, but they will also help your employees to better handle conflict with customers and those you serve.  Investing in this training for you and your staff will increase performance as they feel more equipped to handle difficult situations, it will enhance relationships while employees are more confident addressing concerns and it will open the lines of communication between your team.  


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