We all know from experience that speaking up about it immediately is better than kicking the can down the road. Given that, why are suboptimal situations like these so often not spoken about?
Well, it might seem safer to say nothing, even if you’re a manager. Especially if there are high stakes, we may have an emotional reaction about it (acknowledged or not) and perceive a “threat”, so avoidance of the whole issue seems smart.
But it generally isn’t. (See my postto understand why)
The solution, rather, is to develop knowledge, skills and practice in holding “difficult” conversations with people, which leads to confidence. Ideally, the boss will model this, with everyone else also learning it and holding each other accountable to carry it out.
Step 1: Establish the right backdrop for success!
I’m a huge proponent for an open feedback culture in companies, because it normalizes frequent communication where everyone is safe to speak up (no matter who they are and what position they’re in).
A direct benefit of this openness and frequency is that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to have any particular talk. There’s regular back-and-forth communication about all levels of things, and plenty of praise too, so when the boss asks to have a word with someone, no one feels like they’re being called to the principal’s office.
I’m not saying these things are easy, but they are simple and doable, with time and determination, and will pay off.
When you have a specific “difficult” conversation you need to have, it’s on to Step 2: Preparation.
We want to make sure we’re objective, clear on how we feel, and can formulate comments that relate to a specific situation (not generalizations), mentioning specific behaviors and the impacts of those behaviors.
We don’t want anyone to get defensive or feel personally attacked… they will stop listening and start defending. Rather, we want them to be able to integrate the feedback so they can self-correct and feel OK about it.
For extra credit, review and practice what’s you’re going to say, and how, with someone who’s not involved.