Companies today recognize the importance of providing candid feedback to their employees. For example, Kurt Metzger, a vice president in Prudential’s Talent Organization, points out that his organization encourages managers to address issues with their employees directly.
“Candor is a hallmark of a high performance culture,” Metzger said. “By being candid and encouraging candor in return, people are in a better position to know where they stand and make the adjustments necessary.”
Candor, however, requires uncomfortable conversations. Whether, for example, in the context of a poor performance review or a discussion about why you weren’t selected for a promotion, how you handle the exchange can make all the difference in the world to your career. Here are some tips for handling those conversations:
Personal development coach Robert Long of Sea Bright advises: “When it comes to holding difficult conversations, they are often harder to think about than to do. Stay calm and be respectful, and remember to own your feelings; no blaming.”
While no one enjoys tough conversations, you shouldn’t avoid them. Henry Evans, co-author of “Step Up,” warns that “when difficult conversations arise, you should avoid terminal politeness and embrace constructive conflict.”
Anna Ranieri, a psychologist and executive coach, advises her clients to approach these discussions seeking a win-win outcome. By remaining calm and showing your concern for the other person, they will be predisposed to want to help you reach your goals.
“If you can’t regain your sense of equanimity right away,” she suggests “scheduling a meeting after you have been able to vent with a friend or family member (not a colleague; you might regret that later).”
A.P. Grow, author of “How to Stop Non Team Player Behavior at Work” offers the following tips:
• Build relationships before a challenging conversation has to take place. If there is a solid foundation of trust, whatever has to be said will have the best chance of being received as it is intended — a learning experience with the goal of helping. Trust is built, in part, by having a genuine interest in a person, by listening to them and by showing them that you care.
• Have the conversation at a time that has been prearranged. Not looking forward to having such conversations, many individuals will dive into them with little planning or forethought. Instead, they will see the person in the hall and join them in their walk to the break room, or worse. Catching someone off guard is bad enough, but telling them that you want to talk about something important yet not setting a specific time and place aside where you can speak in private to share the information is even worse.
• Tough conversations should be timely and never come as a complete surprise. You shouldn’t delay, and it is best to have laid the groundwork beforehand. Even if what you need to say is something someone does not want to hear, most people would prefer to be provided with the information with sufficient time to do something about it. Without this knowledge, there is no chance of fixing the problem. For this reason, as soon as the need for the conversation is clear, you should have the conversation.
Michael Timmes, a human resources specialist at consulting firm Insperity in Florham Park, advises, “take the time to prepare for a difficult discussion.” Use questions to better understand the situation and to bring the other party around to understanding the issue.
He notes that “the individual who asks the most relevant questions has the leverage in the discussion. Fully understanding the other person’s perspective will enable you to clarify his/her position. It also will allow you to present a solid business case for your position.”
Communications expert John Klymshyn reminds us that “tough conversations are just that: ‘conversations.’” Remember, he adds, that “the other person may not see things the way you do, and your job is not to try to make that happen.” Your job is to find a mutually acceptable way to move forward together.
Prudential’s chief talent officer, Sekhar Ramaswamy, is passionate about the need to face up to difficult conversations.
“People often avoid difficult conversations about performance issues because they think they are being kind,” he says. Ultimately they hurt the other person by withholding information that can help them improve and grow.
He encourages people who don’t get the tough feedback to ask for it. Handling difficult conversations, he notes, “is like any other skill — the more you practice, the better you get at it.”
A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is a career coach and the author of “UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want.” Mail questions to Lee@employability-expert.com