Vital Conversations

Emma De Vita learns about handling difficult staff from Alec Grimsley's new book

Having difficult conversations with members of staff is an unpleasant part of any manager's job. But is there a right way of doing things? And is it possible to make a difficult conversation painless?

Alec Grimsley describes himself as "the UK's difficult conversations coach", and his latest book, Vital Conversations, gives advice on how to get through an "impossible conversation".

Many managers dread the person they're remonstrating with bursting into tears. If it does happens, don't panic, writes Grimsley: "It's natural and healthy to cry and release stress when you are overwhelmed." His advice is to be empathetic (so make nice soothing noises) without letting yourself go too far and start backtracking. Finally, always ask the person if they need some time to collect themselves - it might be better to reconvene later.

And what if the colleague you've told off for poor timekeeping goes bananas? If you think they're going to get violent, Grimsley advises leaving the room as quickly as possible. If not, let them vent their feelings, empathise, but restate whatever it is you need to get across. Oh, the joy of being a manager.

Emma De Vita is books editor of Management Today

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