Performance Management

Four ways to help your managers have difficult 1:1 conversations

Here are four ways to help your managers have difficult 1:1 conversations in the workplace, both kindly and effectively. Read more.

Four ways to help your managers have difficult 1:1 conversations

Let’s be honest, difficult conversations can be awkward and, well, difficult.

No one relishes them, least of all managers and employees. Of course, there are certain situations in which managers need to have these conversations to support an employee, their team, and the wider organisation. Examples include poor performance, a disciplinary procedure, sensitive health issues, or personal grievance - the common denominator being that all of these scenarios will elicit strong and sometimes negative emotions. Faced with the prospect of confrontation and feeling ill-equipped, managers can be forgiven for wanting to avoid difficult conversations, yet doing so will only make the issue worse in the long term. 

What we need to do is enable managers to have difficult conversations, kindly and effectively. This is how we support the quickest and most appropriate resolution for the employee - and when happening at scale, these 1:1 conversations will support a happier, healthier, and higher-performing workforce. 

But here’s the catch: our own research suggests that managers lack confidence when it comes to talking to their employees about informal issues such as wellbeing and work-life balance. These are the sensitive - and often challenging - conversations that managers need help with most of all. But it’s only when we consider this against record levels of employee stress (and even anger), that the criticality of helping managers to have difficult conversations comes into full focus. It’s now more important than ever that managers and employees are able to talk to one another openly - and when necessary, in a way that’s direct but always fair.   

Here are four ways to help your managers have difficult conversations:

Role modelling at a senior level

Like most things in the world of work, culture forms the foundation upon which everything else stands - and that’s no different here. Mindset is a key part of this because the goal is to help managers re-frame how they think about difficult conversations: the opportunity rather than just the obligation. 

As the saying goes, seeing is believing. Managers who witness their senior leaders modelling the right behaviours by broaching difficult conversations and reaping the associated benefits are far more likely to follow suit. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, however. It’s a long-term investment that requires ongoing commitment from senior management. Yet over time, as this role modelling continues to promote the value of difficult conversations, these discussions will become an increasingly normal and integral part of company culture.

HR teams can further support this transition by complementing these positive behaviours with ongoing communications that educate managers as to why they should actively embrace, rather than avoid, difficult conversations. 

Enable employees to speak up

But this isn’t a one-way street, and the onus shouldn’t be placed entirely on the manager. In many cases, employees will need to voice their concerns or discontent in order for their manager to even know there is a problem. This knowledge is vital for enabling the manager to talk to their employee about the issue at hand, however difficult - and without it, the probability of resolution is greatly reduced. 

What we have here is a real opportunity to train employees so that they too can broach difficult conversations. Educating employees as to the importance of preparation and how best to initiate complex conversations is key to this, along with advice on how to keep things constructive and solution-focused. Armed with these insights, employees will not only be more empowered to speak up, but more likely to resolve their issue in a way that works best for them. 

Upskill managers

Of course, it’s not just employees who need guidance. Most managers, through no fault of their own, lack the know-how and tools to navigate difficult conversations effectively - and in line with individual needs and expectations. Soft skills training can help to close this gap by developing managers’ conversational capabilities, enabling them to handle a range of challenging topics.

This crucial training will help managers to adopt the best approach based on the individual and scenario at hand. Not only that, but equipped with these stronger interpersonal skills, managers will be better at recognising and managing their employees’ emotional states. So irrespective of whether your organisation is big or small, it’s no longer a question of whether soft skills are relevant in performance terms, but whether your organisation can afford not to make this a formal item on the corporate learning agenda.

Lend the right tools and technology

Yet in today’s fast-moving and hybrid working world, even that’s not enough. We must also ensure that managers have the modern tools and tech-enabled insights to structure conversations, difficult or otherwise, around the topics that matter most.

In the OpenBlend platform, managers can access real-time data and best-practice frameworks to help steer sensitive conversations in the right direction. Our conversation funnel (Organise > Prepare > Focus > Guide > Actions) provides a clear structure that is proven to support more effective conversations and performance outcomes. It works by lending the guidance, clarity, and confidence that managers need to talk to their people and work with them towards the best course of action. And so while very few managers, if any, will delight in the prospect of a difficult conversation, if they at least have the right structure and tools to support them, HR leaders can remove much of the anxiety that causes managers to avoid these vital conversations.

And then, of course, let’s not forget those invaluable, employee-led insights around motivation and wellbeing. Technology is an essential driver here, too. By capturing and presenting these critical nuggets of information, managers can identify any dips in employee motivation and performance more quickly, resulting in a minor course correction rather than a bigger (and more difficult) conversation down the road. To learn more about this topic, download our ‘Good Conversations Guide’ or get in touch with the OpenBlend team. We’d love to hear from you.


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