As leaders, we dread the difficult conversations where we must give a team member a bad performance review, share our disappointment with their work, take them to task on poor behaviours or tell them some bad news.

When handling a difficult conversation in the workplace, coaching is an effective approach to help guide the conversation towards a positive outcome. Here are seven tips to follow:

  1. Prepare for the conversation: Before having the conversation, take some time to prepare yourself. Identify the issue at hand and think about what you want to achieve from the conversation. Consider the team member’s perspective and try to anticipate any objections or concerns they may have (but don’t assume you know their intentions)
  2. Create a safe and open environment: Begin the conversation by setting the tone for a safe and open environment. Acknowledge any discomfort or tension that may exist, and express your intention to work towards a positive outcome together. Encourage the team member to share their thoughts and feelings on the issue at hand.
  3. Listen actively: Listen to the team member’s perspective with an open mind and without judgment. Use your coaching listening techniques, such as clarifying, summarising, and reflecting back their feelings, to demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in understanding their point of view, their feelings and their intentions.
  4. Ask powerful questions: Use open questions to encourage the team member to reflect on the situation and explore potential solutions. Help them gain insight into the issue and their own thought processes.
  5. Candid feedback: Be clear and candid in your feedback, but come from a point of compassion and wanting to help the team member. Focus on specific behaviours or actions that need to be addressed. Don’t sugar-coat the information, but don’t attack or blame either.
  6. Offer support: Use your coaching skills to offer support in developing a plan of action to address the issue.
  7. Follow up: After the conversation, follow up with the team member to ensure that progress is being made towards a positive outcome. Continue to support as needed.

Remember, coaching is a collaborative process with the purpose of helping the team member grow and develop. By following these steps, you can help facilitate a difficult conversation in the workplace and guide it towards a productive resolution, where the team member is both clear on where they need to improve, but also motivated to address it and develop themself in the process.

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