Turn Down the Turmoil on Tough Conversations
March 23rd 2016
You know how it feels: your gut is tight, your heart rate is up, your hands are sweaty. This is often what happens when you have to engage in a tough conversation with a team member. The hell of it is, you called the meeting, because you’re the leader.
First, congratulate yourself on having the conversation at all. Too often, we avoid tough talks because they’re uncomfortable. We tell ourselves it’s just easier to work around whatever the problem is, or to hope it goes away on its own. That’s an unproductive story. All of us know how destructive it is to a firm when we let problems fester.
Second, control the circumstances of the meeting. Time and place are important. Handle the issue promptly, but not when your emotions are high or your energy is low. You can reduce the threatening nature of a tough talk by having it away from your office. That gets you out from behind your desk and physically closer to your team member.
Third, control your mind. Get calm and breathe deeply. Your calmness will help your team member. Focus. Remove the possibility of interruptions, whether external (phones and other people) or internal (your own noisy mind). Listen.
Fourth, control your mouth. Don’t interrupt (deep breathing instead). Acknowledge the emotional nature of the conversation out loud, because it’s going to be almost entirely emotional versus rational. Be specific about why you are meeting. Gather the data. Ask useful rather than accusatory questions.
Finally, control your emotions. You get to choose whether you react with emotion or respond with reason. Responding is always better. Allow yourself time to respond (remember your deep breathing). Do not put energy into the other person’s emotions, but give them room to feel and express them. After all, you’re the leader. You can handle someone else’s emotions, especially if you have control over your own.