Hannah Wadley
Posted by Hannah WadleyFebruary 2, 2021 6:00 AM

Having difficult conversations with team members can sometimes be a leader's worst nightmare. However, if equipped with the correct tools, those conversations can be more effective and less frightful. Whenever it’s a conversation you have been avoiding, or a conversation you have been dreading, first stop and consider these three things to help you navigate.

Three Things to Remember When Having a Difficult Conversation

Check Your Approach

First things first, having tough conversations should be thought about and prepared for in advance because the language you choose to use is a critical component to presenting what success looks like to your team member. Stay focused, stay confident and know the facts.  When you prepare what to say and when to say it, your approach will help deflate the anxiety that often accompanies meetings like this and turn the "correction" into a healthy conversation.


Detail the Correction & the Consequence

The best form of feedback is simple and straightforward. When it comes to giving constructive feedback, it is very important that you clearly state the ideal outcome versus focusing on what you don’t want to happen. For example, instead of saying, “I noticed you roll your eyes in meetings and that needs to stop,” say, “I’d like for you to ask your fellow associates a follow up question whenever you are confused instead of rolling your eyes.”

Beyond this, keep the conversations open ended by asking your team member what he or she thinks the correction should be for the behavior or action that you’re addressing.  And remember, whatever you do, remember to only issue a consequence that you have the authority to execute should the infraction happen again.


Watch the Attitude

Whenever you get pushback from a team member, ask them to elaborate on why they are frustrated, and allow him or her to share their side of the story. You will either be given an excuse or a genuine obstacle that you can work together to fix.

It is important to set the standard for the expectation, and explain it in a way that tells your team member what they will do to achieve success versus discussing what they should do.  Oftentimes these types of emotional conversations may result in the team member expressing their emotions with crying and you will need to use your discernment to determine if crying is a form of distress or manipulation.

Manipulation will be easy to spot because they will quickly try to hijack the conversation. Nevertheless, don’t stop your flow of speaking when you notice the tears. Instead, simply slow down your speaking and allow them time to calm down and re-engage. Avoid saying, “don’t cry” and “you don’t need to get upset over this.” You will either embarrass the genuine people or prove to the manipulative ones that you are on to their act. It is most effective to get down to business as quickly as possible, and be able to probe the team member's immediate purpose or need. If you are calm and focused, you will be able to successfully help them navigate, move past their emotions and onto an agreed upon resolution.

At DMA, we are marketers and leaders of marketers.  We know how difficult conversations can be but we hope you'll find these tips helpful when planning for your next tough one.  Do you like content that addresses leadership skills like this? Tell us more and email us some your questions or leadership post ideas at info@dma-solutions.com.

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Topics: Culture & Creativity, 2021