8 Ways to Manage Difficult Workplace Discussions in 2020

Even in the best of times, problems in any business are inevitable. In the unique case of 2020, the challenges for small to medium-sized service companies across the business sector seem to be multiplying daily. So, as in all other industries, power sweeping businesses need owners and managers who are equipped with the necessary leadership skills to communicate with employees, customers, vendors, lenders, contractors, and others in difficult business discussions.
Below are some recommended ways for addressing typical problems that are sure to arise for entrepreneurs. Using these simple approaches to work with people on sensitive issues involving your business can help you collaborate with them to determine the best mutual solutions.

Why is Greater Care in Managing Conversations So Important Now?

When people feel that a business’s management is disinterested in their perspective, they are much more likely to reject or disengage from opportunities to collaborate to find mutually acceptable solutions.
On the other hand, managing professional leadership composure, rationality, and compassion when confronting workplace problems can help employees, customers, vendors, investors, and others around you remain clearer-headed, feel less emotionally triggered, and feel more inclined to stay engaged in the process.
Your top talent, best customers, preferred vendors, contractors, and others are more likely to be inspired to pull together with you and become an even more integral part of your company’s successful operation when you demonstrate good leadership skills during challenging times.
This means managing difficult communications in a way that generates the kind of trust that comes from people seeing that you are looking out for the future of the company and their best interests.

Frequent Problems in Workplaces

There are, of course, far too many common workplace issues to list here. Arguably, most of the roughest conversations an employer will inevitably have are probably going to be with workers regarding performance issues, or with unhappy customers, or possibly with worried lenders during financial stress periods.
During start-up phases, probationary employment stages, periods of leveraging growth, or in unpredictable periods of broader economic downturns, such as this year (2020), issues can become pervasive and extreme throughout a business.
Just some examples of difficult issues your business may need to be dealing with this year include:
• Staffing cut-backs
• Canceling vacations
• Poor performance
• Raising prices
• Switching vendor
• Reducing payment amounts
• Business losing money • Postponing raises
• Changing job roles
• Workplace biases
• Service deficiencies
• Unreliability, inconsistency
• Personality clashes
• Bad attitudes
• Termination for cause • Slow payment
• Discontinuing service to difficult customer
• External economic conditions
• Safety violations
• Angry customer
• Employee dispute
• Countless others
When tensions are running high, difficult conversations with everyone from contractors, to clients, to lenders, to investors become more likely, if not inevitable. While the types of, and parties to difficult business discussions are countless, there is a single 8-step strategy you can apply to navigate such thorny interactions:
Tips for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work
Facing difficult problems is not pleasant for anyone. However, there is a comprehensive approach you can take to manage uncomfortable meetings. This straightforward plan can help you minimize the uncertainty and stress for everyone involved and help everyone feel more amenable to working together toward the most practical solutions.
Here are eight basic tips for managing difficult conversations with anyone involved with your business — workers, clients, partners, suppliers, or others whom you may have to deal with regarding some problem in some area of your business:

1. See the opportunity in a challenging situation.

Problems inherently contain opportunity. Challenging issues are veritable natural developers of creative potential. Better ways are born of the struggle for solutions. There are lots of great clichés around this point because it’s such a well-proven, time-tested feature of leadership reality.
First, of course, appropriately handled resolution of issues fixes a problem. That means the way of doing things has been improved from that point forward. The business will function better as a whole, and key lessons have been learned about avoiding similar issues going forward. Plus, participants in devising the solution have proven their abilities to succeed in such difficult challenges in the future.
Generally, the more people bringing their creative problem-solving abilities to bear on a problem, the better. When an issue is impacting the smooth running of your power sweeping business, layout your own best ideas for solutions, then ask for ideas from employees, vendors, industry experts, even from friends or relatives who may have some new perspectives.
Collaborating successfully to solve an important issue also leads to an opportunity for the people involved to share a victory over the problem. So, despite all intuitive perceptions to the contrary, difficulties between people can strengthen their bonds and enhance working relationships.

2. Think about what you want to say during the meeting in advance.

Whatever the issue, whomever the parties to the discussion of it may be, preparing an agenda for the meeting and practicing what you’ll say can make all the difference between success and failure of your purpose for the discussion. So, prepare your comments, the solutions you have in mind, the questions you need to ask, the commitments you need to give and receive, the objectives and goal you need to set for the meeting.
Take notes with a list of talking points going into the meeting, to allow you the freedom to manage the discussion with greater leadership confidence. You’ll have a clear direction, boundaries, and endpoint for the conversation.
Send out an invite to the individual or group with whom you need to meet, stating the specific topic of the discussion accurately and neutrally. If it’s about poor performance, for example, you might state that it’s a performance meeting. If it’s about a need for a vendor rate reduction, you could call it a meeting about product or service costs. If it’s about a quarterly loss, you could state that it’s about profit margins.

3. Don’t ignore the problem or put off having an uncomfortable conversation.

Like most people, business owners don’t enjoy awkward conversations about difficult subjects. But, those encounters are inevitable in the life of an entrepreneur. Avoiding dealing with serious business issues prolongs the dread and may even worsen the problem at hand — which can make it even harder to face. So, when a serious problem comes to your attention, arrange a time to meet with the interested parties, and just lay out the issue and propose your best solution(s).
Maybe an unhappy employee has been less productive lately. Maybe a customer is upset with a serious mistake your staff made. Maybe you need to approach a vender about a service problem, or you need to tell a lender that you’re going to be late with payments due to the economic impact on your business. The employee, the customer, the vendor, the lender will all be easier to deal with if you have not allowed the situation to go on for a prolonged period.
People tend to feel like they’ve been treated unfairly by a business manager who lets his/her problem with them, or their problem with him/her go unaddressed for a long time. If they have needed to correct their actions, they may feel they should have been told sooner. If you need to correct your actions, they may feel you should have explained yourself more promptly.
So, before the problem grows to negatively affect areas of your business’s operations or important business relationships, stop procrastinating. Take time to think through what you’ll need to say, determine what the best solution you can offer is, and sit down with the other party to work it out.

4. Clarify the specific topic to be discussed at your meeting.

Announce before the meeting, if advisable, and again at the start of the discussion specifically what the topic will be. If the meeting is about a particular problem with a specific product or service you’re receiving from a provider, or if it’s about a specific error a service employee is making, explain clearly that your plan for the discussion is simply to work with the meeting invitee(s) to come up with a lasting solution to their or your problem.
Having a narrowly defined purpose for the discussion also helps attendees restrict themselves to the facts, vs. meandering through opinions and general talk about peripheral matters loosely to do with the topic.
Being clear on expectations for their part in a difficult meeting can also help people mentally and emotionally prepare themselves and manage their emotions while working on solutions to controversial issues.
Often, people will wander away from the central point of a meeting, or begin picking on the details of the argument or use a meeting to vent their laundry list of complaints about the company, their problems, etc.
Discussions can drift so far afield from the original intent that much time is spent and nothing gets accomplished. So, when meeting participants begin side-tracking with comments that don’t pertain to the specified point of the discussion, politely guide the talk back to the central purpose.

5. Set and clearly explain the goal of the meeting.

Just talking about the issue, of course, is of little help without some actionable decisions made and some clear assignments of tasks to implement solutions. Don’t allow your meeting to become a mere exercise in expressing complaints. Go in with a constructive plan.
Along with stating the topic at the beginning of the meeting, also state what you have in mind as a goal for the discussion. Keep the meeting participants focused on collaborating to create a simplified plan for implementing specific solutions. Assign roles and tasks and timelines for implementation.
Before leaving the meeting, schedule follow-ups with each attendee or with the group, to review and confirm that solutions have been fully implemented and are working as expected. That is the process for a successful meeting about a business problem.

6. Learn formal conflict management methods.

There’s an abundance of great information on how to communicate in business. Learning higher business communications skills can help you avoid seeming insensitive to others’ positions, or condescending, or impatient. Advanced skills development can help you stay flexible, be better prepared to shift your approach, and employ other helpful tactics from a range of advanced conflict resolution techniques.
There are strategies for giving parties to a conflict room to reposition, helping them save face, reframing complaints as helpful input toward solutions, helping people visualize a negative outcome and a positive outcome of the effort to settle on a mutually beneficial solution. These and an abundance of other professional-level soft skills that cannot be covered in detail here are very useful for leaders of growing power sweeping companies.
In the meantime, keep in mind that your success in a difficult discussion means that all parties have become motivated to agree on a mutually satisfactory solution. So, above all, focus on understanding their desires and interests, in terms of the effect(s) of the problem and solution(s).

7. Allow everyone to talk, and listen carefully to each person.

Often, even when the nature of a problem in business (or in personal life) seems very clear, it turns out that there is an unexpected number of other perspectives on it. In such cases, arriving at a solution that is mutually beneficial for everyone affected requires hearing everyone out.
Listening is the best way to understand a problem from various angles. So, make listening to a priority in your difficult discussion. Hear what each person involved has to contribute to the discussion, and be respectful of everyone’s ideas and concerns. Make sure you convey that you have heard each contribution to the discussion after each person speaks and that you understand it.
Signal with a word, or a few words of acknowledgment, or a nod, etc., that you understand what the speaker has said, to demonstrate to people that you care about what they’re saying. This simple approach can go a long way to helping people stay calm and maintain a collaborative mood, even in discussing the most difficult of business issues.
Your success in setting the tone for a polite and calm conversation, and showing genuine caring for others involved can help diffuse anger and lead to much more desirable outcomes of meetings about controversial issues.

8. Follow through to ensure that you and others keep commitments made.

What should happen after a difficult business meeting? Follow-up with the parties to the discussion, if appropriate, to check the status of actions they agreed to do and to report your progress on action items you agreed to handle.
Continue to track progress until the implementation of agreed solutions is complete. Meet again as necessary to modify originally agreed solutions. Modify timelines as necessary to make sense of workloads and coordination with service deadline for everyone involved. Remember to thank people for their contributions to successful outcomes.
Your Future in Managing Difficult Discussions
When the time inevitably arrives for you to deal with a difficult discussion with someone internally or externally involved with your business operations, your plan should be to seek to engage everyone involved in approaching the situation with a collaborative spirit, finding win-win solutions, and maintaining company’s critical business relationships.
Your best strategy for achieving the above in a difficult discussion is to prepare in advance. Study the tips above, to help you keep the discussion on track, help people remain calm and feel heard, and to inspire participants to work together with you in good faith through the difficulty.

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