As part of our feature ‘Conversations can change lives’, Personal Development Specialist and Author, Karen Warren says there are ways to tackle the difficult conversations at work, to manage performance, behaviour and attendance effectively, and keep both parties well.
If you work in an effective culture of workforce wellbeing, you’ll be able to have honest conversations with your teams about their work performance. You’ll recognise and celebrate their hard work, and support any required improvements. People will talk to you proactively about any difficulties or blocks to progress.
But if you don’t work in that kind of culture, it can feel uncomfortable to talk to people about issues with their work. Particularly, if that’s not the norm in your business. Little niggles around performance, behaviour and attendance can quickly develop into bigger issues and problems, which can become normalised and embedded into your work practices surprisingly quickly.
You might hear comments such as:
- “Oh, just ignore Steve, he’s always like that!”
- “Beth doesn’t answer the phone. Well, not unless we shout at her!”
- “We don’t tend to let Justine join the weekly update calls, she’s not that great with the customers.”
A conversation is key to change, to keep people well and support the strength, resilience and success of a business.
Have the conversation to keep you both well
Time can be the greatest barrier to having the more difficult conversations at work, and if you’re overloaded with your own work, it’ll be easier just to avoid them. But that’s when problems become normalised, and then it’ll be more difficult to address and resolve them.
If you’re overloaded with your own work, make sure you increase your wellbeing behaviours at work.
- Take regular breaks and have a minimum of a half hour break during the day, away from your immediate workspace. Answering your phone with half a sandwich in your other hand does not constitute a good break or a positive wellbeing practice!
- Move away from your immediate work environment regularly. Getting up to talk to someone, instead of sending them an email can be a good way to manage this.
- Be mindful. Of your breathing and your thoughts. If your head is spinning with everything you’ve got to do, try to move away from your immediate workspace and find a quieter area where you can sit for a couple of minutes, breathe and settle your thoughts.
As you improve your wellbeing practices at work, you’ll feel more energised to tackle any difficult conversations you need to have with people.
Preparation is key to the success of your conversation.
Make sure you have clear evidence of what the problem is and when it’s happened. General “you never do that properly!” feedback won’t land with people and may well disengage them further from working effectively.
To address an issue and manage the conversation effectively, you can:
- Define the problem
- Give evidence of when the problem has occurred
- Demonstrate the impact of the problem, on customers, colleagues or the wider organisation, for instance
At this point in the conversation, keep an open mind. The issue might not be the fault of the person you’re speaking to. There might be factors which are impacting the person’s performance, behaviour or attendance. If something comes to light which is causing an issue but you’ve not been made aware of it, you can talk about the need for people to escalate issues to you appropriately, so that you can help to resolve them.
The next step:
- Define the improvements to be made
- Agree next steps to monitor progress
There must be a follow up meeting. Otherwise the individual might walk away thinking that you’re just having a bad day and that nothing further will be done about the issue you’ve discussed.
They’re much more likely to take the conversation seriously if they know that they’ll be held to account for their progress at a future date.
While very few people love to be told that their work needs to be improved, if you stay calm, treat people well, and with respect, most of them will accept what you’re saying and appreciate the time you’ve taken to discuss things. Difficult conversations are opportunities to offer help and support and by using that perspective you can feel more positive about dealing with them.
If there’s a problem, there’s usually a reason why. If you can make someone feel safe, they’ll usually tell you what that is.
Have those conversations to keep both parties well and develop an effective culture of workforce wellbeing to support the strength, resilience and success of your business.