Thursday, June 28, 2012

Difficult Conversations

As much as I love business — and the communications business in particular — communicating within your very own family of employees is not always as natural as doing it for a client.

Among the most difficult conversations are those in which sensitive matters are being addressed … for example: advising an employee you like that he or she will have to relinquish a leadership position in the company that has been held for a long time; arbitrating a discussion between two employees who have just had a nasty argument that threatens their smooth collaboration, and thereby critical operations of the firm; telling an employee that a client has just asked for his or her removal from the account team when the employee disagrees with the client’s reasoning and feels his position in the company is threatened. These are just a few examples, but the list goes on and on.

Good management is duty-bound to face these situations and deal with them, nerves and anxieties aside. The business will be stifled, if they don’t. There is no choice. But there is a choice with regard to how the meeting is conducted, particularly if we want the end result to be positive. It needs to be planned carefully; there is no room for anything haphazard here.

Because we’re always interested in strengthening the skillsets of Makovsky managers in this area, we invited Barry Collodi (, an esteemed consultant and psychologist focusing on employee training and communications, to train our own. Barry outlined a five-step process to employ in such meetings. I thought it was a logical, conscientious and very sensible approach.

• First, he advised managers to start with warm social conversation, but rapidly move into and clearly state the purpose of the meeting. Underscore and ensure the participant sees the benefits of the discussion.

• Secondly, don’t make the mistake so many managers make in this situation by not asking the employee’s point of view on the matter (i.e., thoughts, feelings, concerns). You may want to summarize what others have said, but at this point the manager should listen carefully and withhold his or her point of view.

• Next, Mr. Collodi says, the manager has to present his or her own views, but also state areas of agreement and disagreement. Be concise in the presentation and avoid proving or convincing.

• Fourth, acknowledge the interfering emotions involved and attempt to resolve the disagreements by exploring and clarifying the two positions. Try to agree on a “best solution.”

• Finally, try to work out a final resolution with some follow-up goals, action plans and milestones in mind.

Most managers, in my opinion, suffer varying degrees of anxiety before such meetings. Thus, they may want to take the Collodi system and do a run-through with a colleague. But the order that this five-step process provides should offer a calming effect, because it tells you how to get from here to there.

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