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How Do We Get Managers To Embrace Difficult Conversations?

How do we make our managers better at having difficult conversations with our employees? Sometimes it seems easier for them to gloss over tough topics rather than engage employees in discussion and uncover problem area. How do we convince them to probe below the surface without interrogating employees? We'd prefer to avoid mandating it as part of a manager's performance reviews. —Touchy Subject, executive assistant, health care, Sydney, Australia
March 20, 2013
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Related Topics: Performance Management, Employee Engagement, Management Skills and Development, Dear Workforce, Talent Management
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Dear Touchy Subject:

Let me challenge your thinking (or that of your managers). Mandating won't get the results you are looking for. And glossing over tough topics is no easier for managers than having the difficult conversations they seek to avoid. You probably don't need to convince them to take initiative and probe below the surface. It isn't that they won't do it, but more likely that they don't know how to do it well. The solution is to give them the skill set to do it.

To be sure, you have touched on the No. 1 skill every manager should place atop their competencies, yet which few of them do. Getting leaders to embrace these tough conversations should be a critical component in any leadership/management development training. The cost of unwanted turnover and low employee engagement dictate that these skills should be in place as part of your work culture

Help your managers develop this skill by learning a "conversation model." The one I have used for several years has five steps and can be fully learned in a two-day workshop that includes lots of practice. Conceptually, the five steps help managers to:

  1. Establish Focus
  2. Discover Possibilities
  3. Plan the Action
  4. Remove Barriers
  5. Recap

This conversation model is well suited for performance-management discussions, as well as individual and team problem-solving. The key benefit is that this model supports and promotes employee engagement. It enhances a manager's competencies of "telling" to provide more coach-like "asking" competencies. To execute this model effectively, the manager needs a few supporting coaching skills. These include contextual listening, discovery questioning, messaging and acknowledging which are used throughout the five steps.

The real goal is to have clarity around the current reality, establish a clear future state and work through the gap between the two using the five steps. This five-step approach to managing the conversation empowers both the manager and the employee.

SOURCE: Carl Nielson, The Nielson Group, Dallas, Texas

LEARN MORE: Recent research says many organizations lack leaders with the ability to coach their employees.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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