Tackling tough workplace conversations is probably the last thing any of us want to do on any given day. But they need to happen. We share some insights and tips to help you get the conversation started and make sure that it has the positive impact you are looking for.
Criticism, critique, and admonishment are just a few things that can make a conversation at work difficult. This article will focus on three main points:
- The pitfalls of avoiding difficult conversations
- How a personal approach can help
- How building this skill will make you a better leader
Key Questions/Topics Covered
What happens when tough issues are not talked out?
We recently held a pole on LinkedIn and asked our community members how they handle workplace conversations? Here are the results from the three answers they could choose from:
- Blunt and to the point – 58%
- Avoid them at all costs – 0%
- Focus on the positives – 42%
While nobody chose #2, we all know that it can and does happen. Not having these conversations can lead to additional workplace anxiety and stress, affecting team morale. As we all know, this is a significant contributing factor as to why our industry experiences such a high employee turnover rate.
Acknowledging that these conversations have to happen is step one. Now we need to consider the best way to have these conversations. Our community seemed pretty split on their opinion. There is value in both being direct and positive. While our words are important, so is our foundation or relationship with our team members.
Build a solid foundation for open communication
How do your team members know you? This is crucial to being able to have open lines of communication. If people feel you genuinely care, conversations, even the tough ones, will be easier.
You need to take the time to get to know your team and understand how they communicate or their love language. Some people respect or prefer direct or to-the-point feedback. But others may find this off-putting and could potentially damage your relationship. Fine-tuning your emotional intelligence to determine who is who will go a long way to showing your level of personal investment.
Another great tip to building a solid foundation with your team members is to exercise what Mark likes to call “shoe shifting.” In other words, take time to step into others’ shoes, so to speak, to see things from their perspective. This will give you greater insight into what they are experiencing and how that affects their work.
Once you build a solid foundation, you will be better equipped to give feedback or critique when necessary. Be sure to create value by finding a balance between highlighting their strengths and helping plan a way to tackle any weaknesses. Studies have shown that it is not always about the money; people want to be heard and feel valued. By taking the time to thank team members or acknowledge their strengths, you show that you are interested in them, not just what they struggle with.
Tough workplace conversations can make you a better leader
We have all heard that there is a difference between a leader and a manager. In addition to that thought process, we have seen an evolution from leader to servant leader. A servant leader is just as the title suggests; they are looking for ways to serve or help their team members and lead by example.
Strong leaders embrace challenges and are constantly seeking ways to improve. Be it through continued education, focusing on growing their emotional intelligence, or taking the time for honest self-reflection. All these steps and learning experiences can aid in helping you become the leader you should want to be. At the end of the day, you chose this path, so it’s your job to show up!
Tough workplace conversations have to happen but do not need to result in losing a potentially good employee. Build your team through honest and open communication but always with a dash of humanity.
Community Reading Suggestions:
- Crucial Conversations – Tools For Talking When The Stakes Are High
- Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior
Jonathan (00:15): Hello everyone. And welcome to the Juvohub podcast, your helping hand in property management education. Thank you for supporting the show. I'm your host, Jonathan Saar. And with me today as always is the amazing Mark Howell from Howl Creative Concepts. What's happening, man?
Mark (00:36): Hey buddy. How are you? It's good to see you. Everything is good here in my world.
Jonathan (00:41): Good, good. So we got an awesome discussion today about tackling the challenge of difficult conversations in the workplace and whether it's giving, you know, criticism, critiquing, admonishment, whatever the case may be. It's never easy and knowing how to handle these situations can, can be challenging. So we're looking forward to getting your thoughts on that know you have a ton of experience in it. We've all been there and it'll be a nice discussion with some community feedback too. Yeah. So what are the objectives of today's episode?
Mark (01:24): Yeah, we've got some good ones. So, you know, we're, I think we're gonna talk a little bit about what happens when issues are not talked about or talked out, you know, like what, what happens when you don't wanna address them? How to give constructive feedback that shows that you actually care about them and maybe even the conversation. And how does embracing tough workplace conversations make you feel better as a leader or make you a better leader?
Jonathan (01:51): Yeah. Excellent questions. Excellent objectives. So we look forward to, to chatting about those one at a time and a big shout out and thank you to all those who participated in our LinkedIn poll. And maybe we can kind of serve that as part of a framework for our conversation today. So we put out a, a poll on LinkedIn, which was real simple. How do you handle tough conversations at work? Three responses or three results rather blunt into the point, avoid them at all cost and focus on the positive 58% said blunt, and to the point and 42% said, focus on the positive. And then we have some nice comments from a few different people, which we're gonna reference throughout the show. So thank you everyone for, for participating in that poll was interesting to see at not surprising that there was nobody who said avoid them, but, you know, almost a, in a decent split on how you go about them blunt or, and, or, or focusing on the positive when you're, when you're pro you know, in that tough conversation. So let's, let's kick it off though, with the first question and we'll get your, your thoughts on it, mark. So what, what have you seen? What, what do you teach? What, what happens when issues, tough issues at work are not talked out, not talked about?
Mark (03:25): Well, you know, it's interesting. I love the, the poll and then the results to this. I think I agree. I like for people to just be direct, maybe a little more blunt, I think I've been accused of that. Excuse me. But I, I feel like I just kind of say what's on my mind, but as I have grown and gotten a little more professional, I realize that there's so many layers to that. People don't always respect blunt conversations. They don't, if you are not, if you're not emotionally intelligent enough or savvy enough with your bluntness, your blunt comments, it can definitely push people away from you and that can hurt your relationship, your working relationship relationship in the long run. And so but yes, I love the topic. I've done research on it. I teach some of my clients how to handle difficult conversations in the workplace, whether that be with their clients, residents or even each other.
for me, one of the first tactics that I always talked to them about is, and it's even in this article, it was a, I think it was a New York times bestseller crucial conversations. And it talks about shoe shifting. Trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes first, when you don't want to address or handle a difficult or crucial conversation, or what's even worse, is that when you do it without using some of the tools and techniques, you become too blunt or too aggressive almost, you're not really letting other people be heard. And I think that's where the conversation becomes a little more difficult for even them. But I love the topic. I love the, the information that I have been able to gather and, and, and some of the material, I think you might even walk us through Jonathan, but for me, my biggest, there, there are two there, my, my biggest sort of takeaways or things that I would say try doing this first would be the shoe shifting, put yourself in that person's shoes.
How do you think they truly feel about the conversation that you are about to engage in? Don't just be one sided. Imagine, are you the person that holds the power? So when you think about why a conversation has become difficult or who it's difficult for, and if you are the person that holds the power in the conversation, if you are the, their boss, their leader, someone that controls their livelihood, then you have the power, you have more power over that conversation than you realize, and what you say and do next affects how they will treat you and how they will behave for your organization in the future. The other thing that, that I always love to talk about and, and say is knowing their story. If you can, in ways where if you're spending time with your employees, when, when you know what I'm doing, air quotes if you know, what someone's story is that means where did they come from? What kind of background do they have? What are their triggers? So when you find out more about the people that you work closely with, you will start to understand what their story is and how to avoid some of those triggers, but a lot of deep layers here, man. So I don't know if we have, you know, all that time to go into that good stuff, but two of my, my most favorite pieces of this topic.
Jonathan (06:45): Absolutely. Yeah. And I, as always with this show, it's to get community feedback and raise awareness, you know, cause sometimes it's obviously with tough conversations, it's it creates its anxiety. You know, it creates its own level of stress. You know, I was telling you about stuff going on in my world before we get on here and I'm drinking some kombucha right now to keep, keep my stomach settled. So right. You know, it's, it's tough conversations can, can make you feel uneasy. But we're seeing what's the result when perhaps tough conversations are avoided. There's absolutely no doubt that that's contributing to why people continue to move from one job to the next, why there, there is a, a talent issue within our industry. Why there's such a high turnover. You know, those are all things that are contributing to it.
So to, to sum it up, being able to create an environment where we can address those tough conversations is going to help with overall morale. And it's going to help with retention that's unequivocally I don't, it would be really hard for someone to have an opinion that would say that has nothing that retention in employee talent has nothing to do with managing critical conversations or difficult conversations because they just exist. They're always there, there's always things that have to be have to be discussed. And, you know, you mentioned that that book that some of our, our commenters in LinkedIn referenced crucial conversations. So thank you to to Laurel Zacker looks like Laurel referenced it Kara rRce. And I saw one more and Sharon Calvin, I hope I pronounced your name, right. So thank you for, for referencing that book and a couple of good books that are mentioned in those LinkedIn comments on how to, how to deal with these things. So thank you for thank you for referencing those. So let's go to our next objective Mark. So it's interesting, the, the contrast between blunt and focusing on the positive, you know, so very two distinct ways of approaching conversations. So how, in your opinion, how does it show that you care and does that even matter? Like having those conversations difficult, how should it show that you care? And does that, is that even a, should that even be a factor? What's your thoughts?
Mark (09:41): Absolutely. Listen. I think the majority of the people that are in our workforce today are, are what we call the millennials and the Z. Is it Zs Xs now? I can't remember the Z, I think. So if you think about their mindset, the mentality is, is, you know, they want to be heard and that's very clear. It is very clear that this generation and the generations to come, they want one on one time, they want to be heard, they have concerns. And so if you are a leader of an organization or of people, and you don't heed to some of this advice that, you know, how do you add value back into a difficult conversation or to your employees then no wonder it's like you said, Jonathan, no wonder people are leaving your organization. There is a common denominator there, right? Yeah.
And a lot of people will always tell me, like, it's not always about the money. It's about how they feel they're being treated or how they feel they're being heard. I have left organizations before because of the way that I was just spoken to or treated and if such a disrespectful manner that I just knew, like, I don't want my experience, my, my years of experience to be, you know, devalued. And so my advice is create value in your conversation as a leader. If you know that you're about to have a difficult conversation with someone, you need to show them, there are ways that you create value, right? And it is about showing them that you're human first, letting your, the people that, that report to you or work for you in your organization. First of all, if they know that you are human where you show emotion, you show, you show moments of weakness of yourself, or of kindness, your joking, you know, more of your laughter side, that sort of fun side.
Then people understand that you're human. And what I have known about my even kind of growing up my parents. So I always used to think my parents were always right. You know, like everything they taught me, well, they taught me. They were right. Well, as I became an adult, I realized they're not always right. They're just human. And they made mistakes along the way. So it's kind of the same principle. It's like, no one expects you to be perfect. Stop trying to act like you're perfect. Stop trying to have conversations where you're the smartest person in the room, be vulnerable, show them that you can be human, that you can add value into the conversation. What that also means is, you know, how do you add value into a conversation? You make the person that you're talking to feel valuable by telling them like, thank you for what you do for our organization.
And here's what I see you contribute. And here's what I love that, that, you know, I see about you and your work or whatever. And so for me, adding value can also help sort of protect the longevity of that employee because then they see, wow, this person really watches my work. And thanks me for my work. I actually worked for a woman once who never said anything to me, never said I did a good job or a bad job, nothing at all. And there are in, in communication there's good, bad. And then nothing at all, that is the worst. If you never tell someone, you're either doing a really great job or you're doing a really bad job here, right. You know, to not hear anything at all means that you don't care anything about my work, there's no value at all. So that's my advice. Find a way to add value to them, to your conversation.
Jonathan (13:07): Yeah. Nice context, man. You know, I liked all the, the kind of visuals you gave of, of just what, what people are facing and, and understanding the you know, the impact it can have. And I, I think to your last point there too, especially with the someone who doesn't say anything at all, you know, it's tough to get past that reputation. And, and I feel like with tough conversations, you create your own, your own pattern and your employees know what that pattern is and they, they will pick up on it to be able to determine how you feel about a, how you feel about a tough conversation. So it's interesting this one comment from from LinkedIn Mike Brewer, from Raco Residential and for everyone listening, make sure you, you check out his, his podcast, the Multifamily Collective excellent. Mike's, Mike's an awesome, he's got like, just anyway, he's a podcast master that dude.
but I love his comment here. When it came to the poll, how do you handle tough conversations at work? It's a mix of one and three for the most part he's talking about himself, but I'm guilty of number two on occasion. It's largely dependent on the level of trust that I've built with the team member. The more trust, the more blunt, less trust, less blunt. So interesting perspective. And when I think of how it relates to, you know, our second objective here, like how constructive feedback, how it shows that you care it's it's from that comment, it's like, is that how you're known overall? Like outside of those times, when you have to give constructive feedback, do, does your employees, do your employees feel that you care and if that's your reputation, then it makes it easier. It makes it a lot easier to be able to have those difficult or tough conversations, in my opinion, as opposed to you looking at a, at a conversation and, and having to have some sort of a scale of, okay, how many things do I need to make sure I say nice about this person before I start talking about the things that they perhaps need some help with.
and, and you're going through like a critical thinking approach on how to have that conversation. I, I resonate with, with Mike's comment there. And I think you do too, Mike, our mark, based on your feedback that if we're trusted, it's gonna be easier to have those conversations. Is that how you feel?
Mark (16:05): Oh, absolutely. I think that look as a leader, it, it is your job to make sure that the people that work for your organization trust you not everyone is meant to be a leader. And many people fall into these roles that really shouldn't, and then end up doing more damage in an organization and to other people's ability to feel good about themselves, which to me is very damaging. But you know, it's like you said, Mike, Mike said he falls to number two just to avoid them. Altogether I've, I've seen many, many leaders do that. A avoid them at all costs, whether that's difficult conversations or the employee, whatever, but when your employees know that they can trust you mm-hmm
What the worst thing that can happen is that when leaders don't build that trust in their teams and rather than their teams coming to them and addressing, Hey, I'm unhappy with this, or this is what what's going on, or I've made this mistake. A lot of people will just quit. They'll just throw down their keys and leave because they don't know that there is a way to find the solution because you, as the leader have not shown them that you're capable of doing that with them. Very, very, very dangerous in my, my book. And, and yes, I have. I've seen it it's happened to me, so I have lived it. But yeah, I, I agree a hundred percent.
Jonathan (17:45): Yeah, very good. Very cool. Okay. So I guess the summation of that objective is, you know, what is your reputation? What are you known for?
Mark (17:56): What's that old saying? And I've, I know I've said this before when people show you who they are, believe them. I think this is very applicable here, too. But it's like you said, if, if I see that you are willing to handle things calmly and you're willing to have conversations, then that's what I'll always know about you and the future. But once you show me that you are unwilling or that you don't have the emotional capacity or intelligence to calmly address it, then I'll never bring anything to you again. And so I, I go back to that statement once someone shows you who they are, believe them, because that's who they are to their core.
Jonathan (18:35): Right, right. Very good. Very good. Okay. So that leads us to our third objective here. How does embracing tough workplace conversations make you a better leader? And before we dive into that, I wanted to just kind of drop down to my friend Eric Brown from IBA apartments. So I've known Eric a long time, probably, I think as long as, as you Mark and Mike Brewer go way back, dude's a, a guru in property management. I always value his opinion. And it's interesting how he, he looks at this, this question and you can look it up. We'll have a link in the show notes to the comments in on that LinkedIn post, if anyone wants to kind of see the full version of it, but he talks about the culture that we're in and how often it's like more of a slogan versus it is, it is reality.
And his opinion that workplace core culture is fear and that the employee owns his or her own power only by walking away, except they don't, it's easier to stay. And Yamer about how abusive the boss is. Some may appear to listen someone above them or someone above them or above them. Isn't listening. So anyway, nice little you know, overall commentary on you know, we've talked about it on different shows too. Sometimes, you know, an organization can get so big that there's, there's gonna be, there's gonna be disconnects. And one person's perception of a particular cultural value within an organization is different than others and how they read it. So that, that comes back to the question though. You know, I think this question kind of has two lines to it. How does embracing tough workplace conversations make you a better leader? So let's focus on an individual level, you know and, and thinking of Eric's comments there from he's, he's speaking from a corporate perspective, but even if we feel that our personal values may not be the standard that's being set, is it still important to keep building ourselves personally, as a leader in being able to embrace those conversations?
Another one of my epic long questions, Mark. So go for it.
Mark (21:17): Yeah. You've got some deep ones today, man. Ooh, glad I'm prepared. I, yeah, listen, I think we've been talking about this if you want. And let me back up and say this good leaders, there's a difference between a manager and a leader, and very great leaders will do all of the things that we were talking about to truly lead their people. They are servant leaders, servant leadership is one. If you don't know what that means, look that up. Are you truly a servant leader? Great powerful leaders from the past. And even from the, the, you know, the present are people that truly are, are servants to their employees and they build trust. They build honesty. And that is why. And I, I won't use their name. There is a company in our industry that tends to hang on to their employees and someone even used their name the other day, when somebody was asking me, where are all the good applicants?
You know, they were like, we, it is such a struggle bus for finding new applicants in our world and our industry. And right. And I was like, well, I mean, I'm sure they're out there. What's, what's going on. Tell me about it. And someone said, well, all the good ones are over at, you know, X, Y, Z company
Research, read articles, find ways to increase your emotional intelligence, to, you know, increase your bandwidth on someone else's life. Do the shoe shifting, find out what their story is. Find out their love languages, make yourself a leader that people truly want to follow. If you are not doing that, then you are not retaining your best talent. Your best talent will look for leaders that will guide them in that method, that manner I know for me, I will never, again, in my career, follow a half cocked leader. I always want to put myself in aligned with some of the best because no matter how old I get, and no matter how long I've been in the industry, why in the world would I ever set settle for just status quo? Nobody in our world is gonna want that. They're always gonna want to be better.
So if you are their leader, then, then be better. And I, I said this to someone else recently, you know, you chose to be here. You chose this job, right? You chose this industry, you chose this job. So when I was talking to a group of people in a training, I was like, you are the ones that chose to be here. So be here, mm-hmm,
Jonathan (24:33): Yeah. Oh, I love it, man. Yeah. That's that's, that's awesome. We can't, we can't let other people's particular decisions on how they go about things to affect our overall goals as a leader. So, great comments, great references. And you said a couple things that made me have a little, just a little visual too, because it's not like you can walk into tough conversations and think, okay. You know, I took a course on this, how to deal with. There is no course, there is nothing that's just like, well, actually really prepare you for a tough conversation until you get into a tough conversation and how you deal with it. And you're gonna learn from how you dealt with that tough conversation and you're going to improve upon it. It's like you know, I mountain bike a ton and I've biked with people who have never gone up the hill.
Like they're the type of bikers. They love biking and, and that's fine, but they're, they're like kind of like the trail, like whatever the community trail it's, it's it's nice. It's fun. It's a good ride. It's a good exercise until you go mountain biking and you hit that first hill, you've never, ever gone. It will knock you off of your bike, cause it's difficult. But the more that you do it, the more your skill is going to get there. And you're not gonna run outta breath. Same thing for tough conversations. To me, it's like that first hill, that first time you do it, you have to do your own kind of like emotional check. How did I do, what did I say? How did it make me feel? How did it make the person feel that I was talking to what were the results?
And then circle back and like do like a reflection on all of those items. And that will guide you to, you know, doing better perhaps for that next tough conversation that's gonna come. You know, and again, we, I think Eric, for his, his comment we're, we're dealing with, you know, such an, an ongoing shift from a, from a corporate perspective. You know, I think that's probably another whole topic at some point to get into about how, how do you deal with that? But it does come down to us as individuals, as leaders and how we can make a difference in someone's day, who we don't know all of the other hundreds of challenges that they're already facing in that day. And we have to talk to them about some policy that they broke or some resident complaint and still give them validation for all of the hard work that they do and be able to deliver it in a way that they're gonna digest and know that as you mentioned, Mark, that you care that you care about them and that you want them to succeed in their job. So a lot of a lot of emotion in this topic, for sure.
Mark (27:45): Oh yeah,
Jonathan (27:47): For sure. Well, until the next time then, let's, let's wrap it up there. Tough conversation. So thank you everyone for again, contributing to that poll. Thank you for your comments on LinkedIn. That was a huge, huge help in a bonus for this particular show to get your feedback. And we're gonna continue to use polls for some of our shows as we, as they come up to get, to get your feedback on, on these topics, cause your opinion and your experience and your perspective matters to all of our community. So make sure if you haven't subscribed to us on your favorite podcast app, please do that. Please give us a review. We are also on YouTube and on Instagram at Juvohub. And if there are topics that you would like for us to talk to discuss on the show, please reach out to Mark or I we'd happy to to connect with you and, and get those topics from you. Mark, how can everyone connect with you?
Mark (28:47): Absolutely. So it's Mark Howell, I'm on LinkedIn, Mark Howell. My company name is Howl Creative Concepts, which is spelled H O W L. So how lcreative concepts.com.
Jonathan (28:59): Awesome. Thank you everyone for tuning in to episode 69. Until next time class dismissed.
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