In an earlier post titled ‘Who Really is the Difficult Conversation For?' I discussed the four stages for ensuring a clear and factual communication exchange that is both productive and constructive. Such a conversation is not just about conveying information, it is also about using the exchange to build rapport, understanding and professional relationships.
In light of current FWC outcomes in relation to Stop Bullying Orders and Unfair Dismissals, so many of these situations point to managers not having the skills to hold effective 'difficult' conversations.
I have been reflecting on the language we use that labels these conversations as 'difficult' and I ask, "What’s difficult?" Is it really so difficult to have a professional, respectful and courteous discussion with a team member regarding their performance? When it is an expectation of every manager to manage their team’s performance and provide regular informal feedback to each individual in that team, why aren’t managers better supported by the organisation to be able to confidently and constructively hold such conversations?
Whether stating 'it's a difficult conversation' or putting forward any other non valid reason, there is no excuse for not immediately discussing poor behaviour, reminding staff of the organisation's values or allowing twelve months to elapse between performance reviews without provision of feedback in the intervening months.
Stating the obvious, managers and leaders are in their positions of authority to manage both tasks and people. Yet many managers who have been promoted because of their technical or organisational excellence may not have the skill set required to build positive and professional relationships and effectively manage people. A lack of such skill in our managers leads to self doubt and hesitation then procrastination in having the necessary conversations 'in the moment' they are required. Instead of having the necessary conversation in the moment team members see behaviours go unchallenged and poor behaviour continue.
The longer the manager is silent on the matter, the more difficult the thought of having the conversation becomes. Yet if the conversation had occurred in that moment, there would be no need for the 'difficult' conversation later on. Over time, the issue(s) become more awkward to talk about, poor behaviour or performance continues (and most likely gets worse), the team culture deteriorates and good staff leave. Stopping to objectively reflect, it’s easy to trace what happened and why. However self reflection doesn’t often happen and when it does, bias may not reveal the truth about how the team got to this place over time.
Instead of allowing leaders to refer to the 'difficult' conversations, why don’t we call them the 'necessary' conversations? In fact such conversations may be referred to as the 'professional' conversation, the 'constructive' conversation or the 'proactive' conversation. Maybe it's time to change the mindset and language of our leaders and encourage them to view their staff as valued resources to be treated with respect and professionalism. Rightly, staff expect and are deserving of, professionalism from their leaders.
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