Difficult conversations are part of life. That makes tackling tough issues with tact and respect an important workplace skill. By cultivating a culture of trust and openness and fostering strong communication practices, you can successfully navigate tricky topics and help your team thrive.
But while that’s easy to say, it’s not always so easy to do. For me, prioritizing frequent, open communication with my team earns the trust of those who work closely with me. A trusting environment goes a long way toward promoting productive conversations.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help make challenging conversations not only possible but productive:
Do - Create an environment of psychological safety - Psychological safety means team members and leaders can ask for help and voice concerns without fear of reprisal. View mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures. It doesn’t just feel good: Research shows it also leads to better workplace performance because it encourages curiosity, confidence and motivation.
Don’t - Avoid potentially challenging conversations - Address issues head-on and with empathy. Good communication is a two-way street. Research reveals there is room for improvement for both managers and employees. Work to understand other team members’ perspectives, concerns and limitations.
Do - Build openness, equanimity and trust - I’ve found that an open-door policy helps my team see me as available and responsive. Facilitate discussions and prompt Q&A sessions in team meetings and group chats. Stick to facts and lead with a positive example. Share stories of how you overcame professional challenges and remain open, confident and clear about expectations.
Don’t - Take things personally or make situations personal - Avoid negative behaviors such as gossiping or playing favorites.
Do - Communicate frequently - Build time for regular conversations through team meetings, weekly one-on-ones and internal chats or email updates. Teams with effective communication systems are better equipped to tackle difficult topics when they arise.
Don’t - Cram everything into a single conversation. Only cover what you have time to fully address - a roadmap or list of specific questions and issues can help guide you.
Difficult conversations don’t have to be intimidating. Creating a psychologically safe environment and prioritizing open communication is an ongoing process that takes empathy, effort and dedication. By actively encouraging a culture of trust and not sweating the small stuff, managers can help teams tackle difficult conversations head-on and set everyone up for success.