In theory..Those difficult conversations

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak - Those difficult conversations.

"It's good to talk," claimed the old BT ad. It's true, yet how many managers blanch at the idea of having a difficult conversation with one of their staff? Stressful conversations are unavoidable at work - from the need to give somebody their P45 to dealing with a confused sexual harassment claim. Indeed, most such situations cause so much anxiety for managers that many simply avoid them. But it can be extremely costly to dodge issues, appease difficult people and smooth over antagonisms, because avoidance usually only worsens a problem or a relationship.

A new book called Failure to Communicate, by consultant Holly Weeks, is tailored to the manager who will wriggle out of doing anything more taxing than grunting "good morning" each day. Weeks advocates an approach that pushes highly emotional and belligerent attitudes out of the door, and welcomes a balanced and respectful strategy instead.

There will come a point when you really must deliver difficult news - so when you do, remember to be clear about what you're saying and fair and calm in your reaction, Weeks says. If things get confrontational, remember never to blow your top, and don't resort to desperate, personal verbal attacks - such behaviour is unforgivable. No matter how aggravating you find someone's personal tics, such as overfilling the kettle or picking their nose at their desk, don't ever point them out unless you're planning fisticuffs. Good luck.

 - Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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