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Leadership is about managing people. Most of the time this means supporting and guiding them as they progress and grow. But at some point, all leaders will need to have difficult conversations with their people. It could be firing an employee, or telling them their performance is not up to scratch. Even small things have the potential to cause issues if not handled correctly. So how do we make those conversations more helpful and less damaging? We asked Justin Cobb for some tips on having difficult conversations.
Trying to soften the blow or beat around the bush might make the conversation easier for you, but it will also lessen any impact that it has. If your goal is to spark a change, then you want to make an impression. You might start the conversation with, “The reason I called you in here is to discuss [problem]”. Then outline the problem in a direct and specific manner. Provide some real examples of the issue, not just a general idea.
Many people, when disciplining staff, will simply reel off the issues, and then tell the employee what they need to do. But that doesn’t make the other person feel valued, or like they have a chance to tell their side. Give them a chance to ask questions, or respond to statements. Be empathetic and listen to their responses.
Criticizing someone and then ending the conversation isn’t helpful. It may let them know they have a problem, but it won’t help them to fix that problem. Remember that every conversation should have a positive impact. If you’re offering criticism, then follow it up with suggestions on how to avoid the problem in the future. Even if you don’t have a solution, you might ask what they think the solution is.
Justin Cobb is a US entrepreneur, with business interests worldwide. He speaks regularly at international events on subjects related to success, business, and leadership.