How To Handle Difficult Conversations With Team Members?

While I was working at a large dental partner, there were over 1,600 employees I oversaw, and the issues that landed on my desk were always complicated.

By the time these problems got to me, it had alredy been through multiple layers of management that had tried to resolve it.

These problems had either festered or were brought up in such a way that caused the them to become even worse.

What I found is many of these issues that came to my attention could have been resolved or reduced early on if a proper discussion had taken place.

But managers and leaders often struggle to bring up issues. Sometimes when they do bring them up, they make them worse, or sugarcoat it in such a way that robs the team member of positively progressing.

We’ve all had bad experiences with these kind of conversations in the past and feeling stressed and nervous are common.

But through experience, I've created a framework that I like to use to minimize conflict.

It can also help you create a constructive conversation that leave both you and the team member feeling relieved, refreshed, and reinvigorated.

Crucial Conversation Framework

Right Time

When you're going to have an important conversation you want to pick the right time. You don't want these types of conversations to just spring up on you.

You want time to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Set up a specific date and time to meet with the team member. 


Right Place

When you have a crucial conversation like this, it needs to be in private. This isn't something you want do in a public place. 

Make sure you and the team member are in a place where you'll feel comfortable and will not worry about others walking in, seeing them, etc.

Right Emotional Place

Make sure you are in the right emotional place. 

If you have a high level of angry energy, highly charged, or frustrated, when you're going to have the conversation, that energy creates defensiveness on the other side.

Once that happens, it impossible to create a conversation that will get the results you want.

You want to be open mided and hear the team members feedback. Don't let emotions drive the conversation.

Start With Context

 Let them know that something has been brought to your attention and you need to discuss with them.

Let them know your goal is to get their point of view and you want to help mend the situation.

Don't use blaming language which will put them on the defensive or shut down.

You want them to be open. 


Share Your Feelings

 Make sure they feel like they got to share their side. Acknowledge their feelings in return. This lets them know that you are listening and care about how they feel.

When its your turn to share, use phrases like:
"This is how I feel."

Don't use blaming language like:
"You made me feel this way."


Focus On The Future

Next focus on the future.

Don't get into the facts, right? Because if you get into the facts, there's going to be an argument.

You can go back and forth and people's perception of the past is very different from others who were with them.

If you don't believe that, ask your siblings about their childhood, because I know in most families, siblings have different opinions of their childhood.

Even though they grew up in the same house with the same family and the same parents.

What you want to focus on is the future.

Use this phrase:

"In the future I'd like you to do ________________ even more."

And make sure you use those keywords "even more" 

If you leave off the keywords, you leave space for the team member to think or say, "well, I already do that."

But when you say even more, it stops that thought process.

The words even more are extremely valuable in making the conversation go well.

If you follow this framework, you'll be able to have tough conversations that you didn't think were possible even on very touchy items that have been too hot to talk about.