12 tips for managers to increase job satisfaction on their teams
As the nature of our jobs and the environment of our workplaces shift, it’s essential for managers to keep a pulse on …
Just like in our personal lives, difficult conversations will inevitably crop up at work. Yes, they can be uncomfortable, but they can also be great learning opportunities. The reward at the other side of a tough talk is much greater than opting out of the conversation and can allow us to work better together, understand different perspectives, practice empathy, and grow as individuals.
While all difficult conversations are unique, it doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for them. We’ve developed a clear 5-step approach called P.A.R.E.S to help serve as a guide for structuring your thoughts and approach for whatever difficult conversation comes your way.
Consider the following workplace scenario:
A colleague’s comment makes you – and perhaps your team – feel uncomfortable. They seem to think it’s amusing, but the comment is downright inappropriate.
It’s clear the employee’s inappropriate behavior could foster a negative work environment, and you’re wondering how to bring this up to them.
In moments like these, it’s important to remember that although a person’s behavior may have been inappropriate, their intention was probably not to offend or to hurt anyone’s feelings. We all have different points of view, making it sometimes harder for us to imagine how a comment or action might be perceived. The key is to take time to understand the underlying reasons for this behavior, while also helping the person see how it affected others so that it can be avoided in the future.
Let’s apply the five-step approach to the previous workplace scenario.
The first step in approaching any difficult conversation is to gather your thoughts and inform the other person, calmly and with care, that you would like to discuss the event. We call this first step “Prepare”.
This is where you get ready for the conversation and set the stage for it. Proper preparation will make these conversations less intimidating and much more effective. It also demonstrates that you took the time to reflect on your feelings and those of your employee.
In our scenario, one way to suggest the conversation could be:
“Could we please take a moment this week to talk about how you said X? It made me uncomfortable and I’d like to explain why. I’d also like to get your perspective on the matter to make sure everyone is comfortable at work, including you.”
Here, your job is to give them the space to express themselves while making sure you genuinely understand their perspective. To do this, you’ll need to listen actively in order to ask the right follow-up questions afterward.
Here’s one way you could apply this second step to our scenario:
“Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about this. I really appreciate it. As I mentioned, I felt uncomfortable when you said X. I’d like to understand why you said that.”
This is where you show that you really listened to them, without necessarily showing that you agree with them. Most of us just really want to be heard, and this ensures that the other person understands your commitment to resolving the issue.
For this third step, here’s an example of how you can properly recognize someone’s perspective without actually agreeing.
“Thanks for taking the time to share and explain your perspective. This is what I understood, and how you feel about the situation: (reiterate what they said to demonstrate that you listened). Does that sound right to you?”
Note: Remember not to go so far as to agree that their comments are harmless or funny if they aren’t. You can express understanding without expressing agreement. Not giving them the feedback they need, even if it’s tough, won’t help them in the long run.
This is all about making sure you are heard as well. You need to express your perception of what happened clearly and without apologies. It might sound harsh, but “ruinous empathy”, as Kim Scott calls it, won’t help the other person grow. What you want to do as a leader is learn “radical candor”, where you can care personally and challenge directly.
Clarifying your perspective in our scenario could sound like:
I understand you meant to say X, which is fair. However, what you said was inappropriate as it doesn’t align with the values of the company, and makes me feel that you’re not thinking of us all as one team.
Ending a difficult conversation without an action plan is like preparing cookies without putting them in the oven. This is where you and the other party work to build a sustainable, long-term solution based on understanding and trust. Having a clear plan also ensures accountability, and acts as a reference to return to should something arise again.
Going back to our scenario, some key points to bring up in this final step would be:
“Moving forward, how can we all avoid a repeat of this type of situation?”
“I suggest we find a way to share this commitment with the rest of the team by the end of the week.”
“Thank you again for being receptive and helping improve our work environment.”
Like anything in life, the more you address difficult conversations with a positive and solution-oriented approach, the better you’ll get at it – and the less awkward it will feel. Moreover, tackling these conversations will contribute to a healthier and more open workplace. You got this!