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I imagine that most viewers (if you’re like me) read the title of this article and thought of a specific instance when having a difficult conversation with an employee. However, as we highlighted in our recent article, the ability to have difficult conversations should be learnt throughout the training programme which is offered to employees right from the start of their career.

How can you, the business and the employee all benefit from training in ‘difficult conversations’?

Let’s explore a typical scenario.

Employee A has been with your business for 18 months, they’ve been a solid performer, get on well with the team and are low maintenance to manage. One day you come to work to find them itching for a chat and you get the universally recognisable envelope slid across the desk. They’re moving to do a similar job with your competitor for more money. The justification (and by the way to clarify, I don’t think employees need to justify why they move as much as employers sometimes think they do) is that they were unsure when they were next going to get a pay rise or promotion and this job “came up” and was ‘too good to miss’. Your part amicably with 2 things almost certainly likely to occur. The existing employee, even if they come back to you, will always have significantly higher price tag for their services and their replacement will either be more expensive or less skilled than the departing colleague.

So how can an employer mitigate this from happening time and time again. There are certainly a few things that help:

  • Transparency on when the annual pay review occurs
  • Promotional criteria visible from day 1
  • Solid training programme in place across the business
  • Regular performance and career reviews

Many of these elements are in place, but it is only 1 half of the relationship. We’re also relying on that early warning signal from the employee to tell us there is a problem to be fixed. But it can be very uncomfortable talking about difficult topics with someone more senior, possibly more confident and almost certainly more experienced in having these discussions. Formal training can teach your team to identify that what they are about to address is difficult/awkward/controversial, equally that it may not be difficult for just them, especially if their manager knows that the topic is justified. By creating an environment where both participants appreciate that neither one feels more comfortable than the other (regardless of the reality) then it makes the conversation a whole lot easier.

So, you’re in the room, the mood is set, and the mutual awkwardness can commence. As a manager what I’m now looking to hear is what outcome someone would like to see and also as much evidence to support either their issues or the outcome they seek. Not only does it provide the best insight of the core challenges to overcome, it also can give the manager the evidence they need to justify things with their boss.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable isn’t? just for the side hustle life, it’s an essential skill that can help everyone clearly identify and hopefully more easily resolve the inevitable problems we all go through during our careers.

Pete Sheppard