Balking at “The Talk”

6 tips for approaching scary conversations about poor performance and bad behavior.

More than 80% of workers are cowering from at least one scary conversation at work—a conversation they know they need to hold, but are dreading— according to a poll of 500-plus respondents by leadership training company VitalSmarts.

Joseph Grenny, the coauthor of “Crucial Conversations,” and Justin Hale, master trainer at VitalSmarts, offer six tips for approaching scary conversations about poor performance and bad behavior:

  • Talk face-to-face and in private. Don’t chicken out by reverting to e-mail or phone.
  • Assume the best of others. Enter the conversation as a curious friend rather than an angry co-worker.
  • Use tentative language. Begin to describe the problem by saying, “I’m not sure you’re intending this…” or “I’m not even sure you’re aware…”
  • Share facts not conclusions. Not only are conclusions possibly wrong, but they also create defensiveness.
  • Ask for their view. Find out if they see the problem differently. You then will be poised to have a healthy conversation about bad behavior.
  • Use equal treatment. These skills apply to bosses and co-workers alike.
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