How to have productive conversations — not confrontations — with employees

- Communication

by Taylor Tomita

Infographic Productive Arguments
Click to enlarge

One of the most difficult moments as a leader is when you come head-to-head in an argument with a staff member. Seen differently however, and one of the greatest challenges a leader has is to ensure everybody benefits from differences of opinion in the workplace.

Nearly three-quarters of senior managers hate meetings because they find them imprecise and ineffective. But calling a well-planned summit with a problem colleague can ultimately be far more productive than letting an argument simmer without bringing it to the surface. Holding on to that tension just raises stress and causes both sides to start digging in their heels. Far better to talk about things openly while both of you are still making up your minds, even if the conversation seems uncomfortable.

Even though you’re the boss, approaching this argument/meeting as equals can ultimately be more effective because it demonstrates that you respect the other person and that your argument stands on its own two feet, rather than being a case of you pulling rank.

What can you do to make the meeting productive?

Create an agenda ahead of time and invite feedback Ask if there are any points that the colleague would like to add?

Then make sure that you’re prepared by researching the issue at hand. You might want to check on their contract or a previous evaluation so you can see exactly what their responsibilities are, and you can illustrate if they haven’t been been met. If it’s more about the way things are done around the workplace, you might read about how industry leaders are doing things, to show that your ideas have been proven to work. Don’t feel like you need to bash the colleague’s argument into the ground with the weight of your research: Just be thoroughly prepared, and concentrate on two or three key points with which to lead your argument.

When it comes to the meeting, it can be easy to let your voice and body language get away from you, but communication will be the key to how this conversation goes. You’re the boss, after all, so you may be used to shouting, or to sitting back with your arms folded. To do so actually inhibits your thinking, as well as sends unhelpful signals to your employee.

It’s better to keep a steady voice, stick to facts rather than comments about your employee’s personality and to calmly illustrate your experience of the situation. If you feel you’re losing your temper, think about calling a bathroom break or find a new location for the meeting – such as on a walk.

Asking questions can help buy you time to think, as well as make the other person feel listened to. There should be open questions designed to bring more information to the table rather than closed yes/no questions that can feel condescending, especially if they’re rhetorical. Rhetorical questions, like sarcasm, have no place here.

Finally, try not to think about your argument as a matter of winning or losing. Even in a disciplinary matter, it can be more useful to think of it as an investigation from which you want both sides, and the business to emerge stronger. Thinking of it this way can also help you keep a level head when things appear to be going badly.

This new visual guide to productive arguing in the workplace is an ideal tool for preparing for a difficult situation. Prepare well, know what you want, and ditch the hierarchical attitude, and workplace arguments can inject surprisingly positive energy into your business.

Photo credit: Cody Engel via Unsplash

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