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How to navigate a tough staff conversation

| by Charles Stone

Leadership often requires that we navigate tough conversations with our staff. It’s easy to neglect such vital conversations for several reasons: fear, they’ve gone sour in the past, we don’t know how, etc.  But to lead well, we must not avoid those talks. I’ve learned that a simple process called active listening can help make those interactions go much better. Here’s how it works.

First, appropriately set up your conversation. Assume, for example, that an employee named John is consistently late to work and you need to talk to him about that. To give him some sense of control (when we feel like we have control we can dampen the brain’s fear response), don’t spring the conversation on him. Ask John in a non-emotional moment that you’d like to talk about office hours at his convenience. Ask him to let you know a time that might work.

The conversation might go like this.

John, I’d like to chat with you for about 15 minutes about our office hours. Would you mind looking at your calendar and suggest a couple of times that work with your schedule? After I hear from you, I'll check my schedule and then we'll set a time. Thanks.

So assume that you both agree on a time. Before you meet, carefully think through what you want to say using this simple acronym, DESC. This easy-to-remember tool can help guide your conversation, keep it positive and secure commitment for the desired change. Here's what DESC stands for.

  • DDescribe the negative behavior.
  • EExpress the emotions you feel when you see the negative behavior.
  • SState the positive behavior you desire.
  • C: Explain the consequences that will result in the new positive behavior you desire.

Here's what a conversation might look like using the DESC model. I've shortened the conversation for brevity’s sake.

D

John, I’m noticing you’re often late to work. As you know, we want to be here at nine, so we can get in a full day of productive work.

E

When you are consistently late for work, I feel frustrated because it does not provide a good example for the rest of the team. Sometimes I also feel angry at you because we’ve talked about this before. I don’t want to start my day feeling frustrated or angry at you.

S

Going forward, I want you to be at work at nine.

C

When you start arriving at work on time, it will help keep team morale up and help me begin the day with a positive disposition toward you.

After you share your thoughts above, ask for a commitment from John to be on time and then set a mutually agreed upon follow-up date to gauge progress.

This simple tool works not only in the workplace, but at home as well.

How have you handled those difficult conversations?

Photo source: istock 


Charles Stone

Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church (London, Ontario) and founder of StoneWell Ministries. He has authored four books including, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (IVP 2014), and Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry (Abingdon, May 2015). He is passionate about intersecting insight about the brain with Biblical insight. He posts regularly at www.charlesstone.com.



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