Original Post by Lisa Neuberger:
Before the conversation, I will find a neutral place to hold the conversation. At my previous employer, all performance reviews or other HR-related conversations were held in a particular corner office far from the department I worked in. It was always a dreadful walk to the office, even when I didn’t have cause to worry. So for my conversation space, I would find something less anxiety producing and closer to the desk of the person I was having the conversation with. The space should be open enough to make all parties feel comfortable, but private, so the conversation couldn’t be overheard. Alternatively, since the likelihood of my being in the same city as anyone on my team is quite small, I would make sure I found I private place to hold the conversation online, including making sure my barky dog had a nice chewy faux-rawhide to keep him company behind a closed door. (Desk Conversation n.d.; Desk Skit n.d.)
During the conversation, I will maintain eye contact, even though that’s not always easy during intense conversation. I will be sure my nonverbal language conveys calm and caring. This means leaning toward the person and remaining open, not crossing my arms (Desk Skit, n.d.). It will also be important to remain professional and not get defensive or aggressive. If I sense myself or the person I’m speaking with start to become too overwhelmed by the conversation, we can step back, perhaps by using a cueing mechanism to allow time for a deep breath. This could be as simple as saying, “I understand this is hard. Let’s take a minute.” Because everyone responds differently to these cues, it’s important to pay close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals. (Dalhousie University. n.d.)
The video on difficult conversations mapped out a good way to hold the conversation. First, outline your concerns. Let the person know the reason for the conversation. Clarify the information and dispel misperceptions. Make sure to admit to mistakes, and seek a solution that allows everyone to win, being sure to have the person participate in finding the solution. (Diaz n.d.)
In the end, it’s important to ask for commitment to the solutions that were identified and come up with steps to get there. Maybe even invent a process to institute the solution. This might mean coming up with deadlines and check-in points or it might be something more informal. Also, acknowledging progress made will be important going forward. (Diaz n.d.)
Dalhousie University. n.d. “Having Difficult Conversations: Resisting Change.” Dalhousie University HR. YouTube. Accessed October 10, 2021. Video, 7:44. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvI8L87UntU.
Diaz, Solomeh. n.d. “Warning: Crucial Conversations Are Hard. (Here’s how to make them better.)” Vitalsmarts Australia/New Zealand. YouTube. Accessed October 10, 2021. Video, 6:26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y9fwHvjOJs
Desk Skit Part 1. n.d. Accessed October 10, 2021. Module 5, Environmental Leadership. Desk Conversation, edited. n.d. Accessed October 10, 2021. Module 5, Environmental Leadership.
Excellent idea to start by selecting a neutral space to hold the conversation. The physical place is a major factor determining whether or not people feel safe. A leader who holds a one-on-one meeting in a room within the employee’s department is going to support the employee feeling comfortable and confident. That way, the employee is more likely to stay emotionally level and difficult topics can be ironed out. Having the conversation be in a private space is important so that confidentiality is maintained which establishes trust between the two people.
Also, great point that it’s important to not get defensive. The leader needs to keep from getting defensive so that they do not create a tension-filled tone that may result in the employee becoming aggressive. Also, I agree with your description of an emotionally escalated conversation being that both people are overwhelmed. When I am overwhelmed, I am not listening to the other person. So, it would be more useful to take a pause then to continue a verbal exchange. By perceiving it this way, it is clear that, in order to deescalate the conversation, it is useful to take words out of the mix. That way, there is less on everybody’s plate to absorb. Additionally, good idea to pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal cues after suggesting to take a minute. It is important to clarify that the pause is being conducted in order for both people to calm down and not just make it about the employee’s frustration. That way, they won’t assume anything that makes them more aggressive. Even when it comes to the content of the meeting, a leader who focuses on dispelling misperceptions is smart. It is a great way to have the employee buy in when it comes time to ask for commitment to the solutions.
Comment by Lisa Neuberger:
I so agree, Mary! Dispelling misperceptions is key to keeping the conversation on track and showing your team you care about them.