5 Things to Do After a Difficult Conversation at Work

Giving feedback can result in difficult conversations at times. It can be easy for managers to miscommunicate or deliver feedback without enough empathy, just as it can be easy for employees to become defensive.

However, as difficult as these conversations can be, this doesn’t mean that feedback shouldn’t be shared, or that difficult conversations should be avoided. Feedback—even negative feedback—can help employees develop their skills and improve the way they serve their organizations. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Zenger/Folkman, 92% of employees believe that negative feedback can be effective at improving performance if it’s delivered appropriately.

So, if you engage in a difficult employee exchange, that’s okay. However, remember that these employee conversations can’t be treated like another check mark on your to-do list.  Difficult feedback conversations require follow-up. And as manager, it’s your responsibility to help steward what comes after.

Here are 5 tips for moving forward after difficult employee conversations.

1. Don’t Push Away What Happened

If you’re already adverse to conflict, it can be tempting to walk away from a difficult employee conversation and try to forget it ever happenedespecially if things got heated.  Although it can feel like an appealing solution in the moment, it can hinder healthy work relationships, create workplace toxicity, and even diminish productivity. So rather than avoiding that employee in the break room, simply accept that it occurred. By doing so, you arm yourself to move forward more quickly. 

2. Be Proactive and Solution-Oriented

But how do you move forward on your own, with your employees, or as a team after  difficult conversations? What are the natural next steps? The best thing you can do is to be proactive and solutions-oriented about the future and with your employees. For example, send a timely follow-up email that recaps your conversation and outlines any next step action items that you agreed uponeven if you could only agreed on a few. Whatever it is, don’t procrastinate about proactively moving the conversation forward. 

3. Tell The People Who Need to Know

Though you might want to vent to other managers or colleagues about a difficult employee exchange, it’s best to handle this professionally, which means thinking through who needs to be aware of your conversation (and who does not). For example, be sure that essential stakeholders are in the know and seek their advice, but perhaps it’s best not to broadcast your onerous employee interaction with your whole leadership team. Remember, as you communicate with the appropriate people, stick to the facts  and avoid personal feelings and bias.

4. Create a Written Record and Plan for Moving Forward

After a tough conversation with a direct report, it’s a good idea to create a written record of what went on, who was involved, as well as any differences in perspectives and understanding. This way, if a similar challenge comes up or repeats itself, you have a record of what steps were taken to deal with it in the past. In addition to recording what happened, this written record should also include an action plan of next stepsremember, be proactive and solutions oriented.

5. Think Big Picture

There will always be difficult conversations that happen within a team or an organization. What matters most is how you help yourself and your employees to handle them more productively. No matter what, keep your eye on the big picturesuch as improving your product or maintaining a healthy company cultureso you can contextualize these difficult conversations. Although employee conversations may be difficult at the times, in all likelihood, it’s a small obstacle on your journey toward growth as a manager and their professional growth as employees.

Moving On After Difficult Conversations

No one likes an uncomfortable conversation. But these conversations can be enlightening and can provide employees and leaders alike with constructive feedback that can help them grow and improve. The key is to not flee from a difficult conversation, but rather take action. With these tips, you’ll know how.

This post is part of a special blog series on ‘Building a Healthy Feedback Culture' in support of ProService’s Growth Series event that took place on September 19, 2018. Offered exclusively to ProService clients and special guests, the Growth Series are interactive learning experiences that feature industry-leading speakers and networking opportunities that will inspire and provide tools for business leaders to take their organizations to the next level.

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