We are all faced with the need to have a difficult discussion whether it be with your significant other, your child, a colleague, a boss, or a direct report at some point. As you gain experience the discussion have a better flow but they are certainly not easier to broach or prepare for. Not addressing the situation does not make you a likable boss or a more respected parent rather the opposite, those around you know you avoid any sort of conflict and you become a “pushover” or the “nice one” but not the one that gets it done. Now, I am certainly not one to say I jump right at the difficult discussion but I have learned how necessary the conversation is and set a time and stick to it.
Take my college-aged daughter, she is focusing on school and does not have a job but has an allowance and has done relatively well managing. While I support everything she does and see most experiences as learning opportunities, I had to have a tough conversation with her when she decided to adopt a dog. How was she going to feed a dog when she can barely feed herself? Ultimately, she did it and she is figuring it out and becoming quite a good dog mom but she needed to hear my thoughts as much as I needed to say them. Similar situations arise with my high school daughter whereas she is trying to find her way, it is tough to talk to her about social media and her involvement when she sees it as just that, being social and sharing.
At work, difficult conversations are plenty, two of the toughest are having to discuss salary expectations and discipline. Other than a situation of lay-off or the sort, companies do not fire a person, the person fires themselves. Hiring managers decide on a candidate with the best hopes, they do not decide a few days or years later that they just don’t want that person anymore. Being absent or late to work regularly is not the fault of anyone but yourself the same way not completing tasks that are expected of you. I am always amazed by the shock and disbelief of an individual when they are terminated for either of the two when not only have they not held up their end but they have been spoken to and addressed specifically for being absent or tardy on multiple occasions.
Then we have the situation with a salary. When you are hired or transferred, you accept a salary, you even on most occasions sign a piece of paper that you agree to the amount. In all of my years, I have never seen a company provide its employees more than an average of 3-5% increase during the annual review and increase process. Why is it that several months into employment team members are no longer in agreement with their salary? One must prove themselves and also be realistic in their expectations that annual increases will not get them to the next level salary they are looking for, performing and being promoted will. I have on occasion had team members approach me to say they do not make enough money. In some cases, this has been valid as we have completed a market survey and found the individual was underpaid and we made the adjustment accordingly but in most, this is not the case. In either event, you must have the difficult discussion explaining the outcome and the action you will take or not take as a leader.
I can go on and on with scenarios of tough decision conversations but I leave you with the thought that you must have them, do not avoid them, you are not helping anyone by not having the conversation. Do remember, try to speak with facts, take the emotion out of it. When the conversation is emotional it usually ends with one of the parties feeling unappreciated, hurt, and you have hindered the relationship.
Prepare for the conversation, physically and mentally, but don’t over think it, crazy thought, I know. Here is a little list I like to keep to mark off (mentally) while in the conversation, asking myself periodically if I have done them:
- Know what your desired outcome is of the discussion
- Have facts to support your claim
- Empathize with the other party, try to put yourself if their shoes
- Be respectful
- Listen before responding
I am not saying any part of this is easy and I admit it is not easy for me but a must.