Tackling workplace issues head-on – it’s easier than you think 

Who avoids difficult conversations? Answer: Almost everyone

We all know people at who are loud, opinionated or even confrontational. But it’s different when that person is someone you know personally and it’s your responsibility to say something about their behaviour at work.
Our default reaction is to take the ‘ostrich’ approach: We put our heads in the sand and hope the issue will go away. But we know that doesn’t solve anything and the issue is more likely to fester and play on our mind – doing nobody any good.
Common workplace issues can be annoying, but relatively benign, such as loud voice while talking on the phone; always eating all the biscuits but never contributing, or asking you something by email when they sit right next to you. Yet all too often we allow these habits to continue to annoy us rather than speak directly to the colleague in question and asking them to stop.
And in this e-communication age, many of us even avoid talking to clients or prospects because it’s easier to fire off an email thinking that we’ve done ‘our bit’.
Here’s a great short blog by Mike Ames about the importance of picking up the telephone and actually talking to prospects to get results: mikeamesonline.
A more serious, yet common, avoidance strategy is not telling colleagues or employees directly when they are falling short in the job. All too often, clients complain to me about team members being “pretty useless”, but when I ask them when they last had a meeting about their performance, they have a blank look. Even worse is when they’ve gone to the trouble of organising appraisals, but only give their staff glowing comments.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, I see a lot of poor relationships in the workplace, with nobody tackling the issue constructively. This can lead to unpleasant discussions involving phrases such as “exit settlement” and “protected conversation” – often accompanied by an expensive cheque.
Often the main reason for this behaviour is because people don’t like to say anything that’s negative or personal face-to-face. It’s hard, or at least we think it is. The trick is to turn the conversation into a positive, engaging discussion for the recipient.
This isn’t hard as you might think. Take a look at this excellent video by Jon Trevor of Let’s Talk: letstalk/teamwork-and-communication. Jon explains a five-step process to approach any difficult conversation which encourages the recipient to (a) feel respected and (b) work out the solution to the problem him or herself.
Try it. Have that face-to-face meeting you’ve been avoiding. Use your body language and voice to show control, respect and positive engagement. You might find you start dealing with issues head on – both at work and at home.
Based in Dunfermline, Ben works with clients in Fife and across Scotland. He is also an integral part of the United Employment Lawyers network, which gives him access to the support and expertise of other employment law experts across the country. Ben has acted for organisations of all shapes and sizes and has advised on many large-scale redundancies and restructurings; negotiated terminations at the most senior level, and handled trade union disputes and collective consultation issues. He has also been the lead lawyer on several multi-day and multi-claim discrimination claims, as well as employment tribunals for both employers and individuals.