Three proven techniques for managing difficult conversations

30 July 2015 -

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With research showing that Brits are not properly equipped for dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace, Martin Leuw provides seasoned advice on how to approach that awkward meeting

Matt Scott

The latest research from CMI has found that British managers are often ill-prepared for dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace due to a lack of training and appropriate experience.

Insights spoke to Martin Leuw, chairman of Incube8it and Clearswift and non-executive chairman of Leathwaite, to get his top tips for managing difficult conversations in the workplace.

Martin Leuw’s three tips for managing a difficult conversation

  1. Take the bad with the good Balance whatever you have to say that’s difficult with something positive for the employee to go away with. Make this as natural as possible. For me, it’s better to start off with the negative, and then you can end on the positive.

    That means that by the end of the conversation you get to a point where the person doesn’t feel totally wrecked by it. 

  2. Don’t make it personal

    Wherever possible, just try and make sure that it doesn’t come across as something personal – make sure you stick to the facts. Sometimes what happens is that people get very entrenched when they are dealing with a difficult conversation, but they should be dealing with the facts, and not letting it turn personal. 

  3. Offer support and leadership

    A get-well programme is key to successfully handling difficult conversations.

    Highlight the areas you’re not happy with, but talk about what you can both do to help the person improve. And give some illustrative examples of what amazing looks like compared to where they are at the moment.

    It is really important that managers are always able to offer support to their staff, but obviously the ultimate responsibility lies with that individual.

    Managers do need to show leadership, and there is that distinction between leadership and management. Leaders aren’t just the people at the top of the business; you need to have leaders throughout. Anyone in a management position should be a leader.

    The difference between a manager and a leader is a leader is someone you want to follow, and you want to emulate their behaviour rather than just being told what to do.

Remember to TALK: Read the CMI’s advice on dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace

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Want to find out what type of conversationalist you are? Take CMI’s Conversationalist quiz to identify how you normally approach difficult conversations and find out what you could be doing differently.

And don’t forget to join the conversation on Twitter: use the hashtag #difficultconversations and keep up-to-date by following @InsightsCMI and @CMI_managers 

All data is taken from a One Poll survey of 2,000 UK respondents run between 11th and 13th May 2015.

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