PIASC Blog

August 20, 2019

How to Put a Positive Spin on Difficult Work Discussions

By PIASC
How to Put a Positive Spin on Difficult Work Discussions

Instead of avoiding difficult conversations at work, start thinking about how to frame these conversations towards a positive outcome. Part of being a great manager is finding a way to lead your team forward with positivity. Listening to your team and creating safe places for conversation are ultimately more effective tools than scolding.

Even difficult messages can be delivered with finesse and positivity. Choosing the correct tone and words while delivering a negative message to your employees may help create favorable attitudes and outcomes. Note some of the following examples of how to transform tense conversations:

Negative Message: You are not meeting my expectations.

Positive Inquiry: How do you feel about the projects you have worked on in the last six months?

Emotions can get in the way when providing even a slightly negative evaluation for an employee. Instead of simply offering negative feedback, ask the employee to share their feelings and experiences on the job. A smooth approach avoids the presence of accusations and creates a comfortable, welcoming conversation. Helping an employee self-evaluate should encourage the employee to become more self-aware. Make certain to emphasize contributions and positive qualities before transitioning into any areas where performance is lacking.

Linda Hill, author and professor at Harvard Business School, recommends using strategic pronouns during performance-related conversations. To become more approachable, start by sharing your own feelings with an employee. You might say: “I feel stressed when I have a lot on my plate. How about you?” The employee might feel more comfortable talking to you if they feel supported and understood. People are more likely to express honest feelings when they can relate.

Negative Message: I disagree with your approach and can’t let you or the team move forward.

Positive Inquiry: Will you help me understand how we are approaching our goal?

Encourage your employees to explain how they plan to achieve results and to illustrate how their plan will unfold. By letting them own the project and the conversation, you give them power to analyze. Instead of pointing out problems, ask probing questions that will encourage the team to identify potential blind spots. This way, you are providing valuable feedback and empowering your team with opportunities to make corrections. It is important that employees feel they can control the project they are working on because it creates a sense of teamwork and empowerment rather than deflation and disappointment.

Negative Message: Executive leadership changed direction, and all the work you have done on this project the last several months was for nothing.

Positive Delivery: We have come up with an even better solution for the initiative you’ve been working so hard on. This is how our team will help move things forward.

Change can be scary, especially when it disrupts your work environment. Sudden leadership changes can unsettle an entire department or project, causing fear and uncertainty in the workplace. As a manager, you will most likely experience some frustration or uncertainty as well. However, you should make every effort to deliver your message in a way that will build trust and create community. Keeping your own frustration in check is important because it is your leadership that sets the tone.  Your method of delivery will influence and determine how your team responds and reacts to the situation.

Be certain to explain the reasons for the decision and clarify how this change might benefit the entire team. Being a great leader means helping your employees realize that change often brings positive results. Being receptive to change is great for the entire company.

About the Author

PIASC is the largest graphic arts trade association in the country. They are devoted in helping members succeed. For over 80 years, they have been servicing businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Ventura and Clark counties.

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