How to Have Tough Conversations at Work
Building caretaker, Supplier liaison, move coordinator, employee supervisor: Facilities managers (FMs) wear many hats. And though FM responsibilities vary across the board, they do share a common thread — dealing with people. Which is why careful, concise communication must be a tool in your toolkit, whether it’s to address a problem employee or ask for a well-deserved raise. Because let’s face it: Tough conversations are all in a day’s work.
No matter the topic, addressing a difficult situation will go a lot smoother if you follow a few
standard best practices, experts say. For one, tough conversations need to happen face-to-face, according to Dawn Railey, Director of Human Resources & Engagement at Branded Group.
“My No. 1 rule is: Don’t have these discussions via email,” she said. “The reader can easily misinterpret what is said in the email, especially if emotions are involved.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that being in the same room is always a requirement. Given varying return-to-office schedules, it may not be possible to meet in person, so a video conference is a fine workaround. What’s key is that you can see your counterpart and their non-verbal cues. In other words, a phone call should be a last resort.
Another best practice is to approach the meeting with an open attitude, said Jenna Dominguez, Client Development Manager at Branded Group.
“Difficult conversations do not have to be negative,” she explained. “The topic might be inherently negative — maybe something failed, or you’ve witnessed poor behavior — but the conversation doesn't have to be. You can make it productive.”
Finally, Railey said it pays to be prepared. This means doing your research on the topic at hand and even going so far as to roleplay the conversation ahead of time with a friend or colleague to ensure your talking points are “clear, fair and accurate” — without sounding scripted.
While these guidelines are a jumping-off point, you’ll want to further hone your strategy based on the specific conversation you intend to have. Here is tailored advice from the pros on how to handle some of these tough situations.
Asking For a Raise
Asking for more money is one of the most dreaded workplace conversations. According to a survey conducted by Fractl and published in the Harvard Business Review, 58% of respondents said they felt uncomfortable asking for a raise, surpassing other cringe-inducing scenarios such as “handling a difficult personality” or “apologizing for a mistake.” Luckily, there are ways to make this conversation easier.
First, before you even consider approaching your supervisor for a meeting, ask yourself this: Is the timing right? If the company just laid off a quarter of its employees, or you were given a pay bump six months ago, you may want to wait. Conversely, if your scope of work increased significantly after the downsizing, or more than a year has passed since your previous increase, consider getting a meeting on the calendar.
Ahead of the conversation, spend time gathering all the documentation you need to support your case. “Bring a list of all your recent accomplishments, any favorable performance reviews you've received and any recognition you've received from customers, peers or whomever you deal with,” Railey said.
Buoy your ask further with solid peer research. Find out what other professionals in your role in your area are making, to guide you to an appropriate salary-range ask. Offering a range rather than a set amount shows that you’re flexible, Railey said.
Then, clearly present your value and achievements, ask for your decided-upon range and wait for a response. In most cases, a supervisor won’t be able to give a yes or no in the moment.
“What you want to do is leave a list of the key points with your boss, so that if they do have to go get approval from a higher up, they have that document to go with them,” Railey said.
If the answer is a yes — great! If it’s a no, ask your supervisor what you need to work on, so that you have a tangible goal to strive for.
Disciplining an Employee
When it comes to delivering a negative performance review, mindset is key.
“I think it's really important to shift from boss to coach,” Railey said. “You want to frame every performance conversation as to how it benefits the employee, not as a punishment.”
Similar to the process of asking for a raise, gather your evidence — the more specific, the better. You should include the date of the incident, the time, what happened and who was involved.
“The more concrete evidence that you can show them, the less they're going to be able to refute what you're telling them,” Railey said.
Be sure to make room for a true conversation — this shouldn’t be a monologue. Listening to what your subordinate has to say could illuminate some of the challenges they’re facing and inspire possible solutions. By conversation’s end, you’ll need to have clearly articulated your expectations of them.
“If an employee is chronically late, you don't want to say, ‘Look, you need to be at work on time,’” Railey said. “Rather, you want to say, ‘Your shift begins at eight o’clock, at which time you need to be at your desk logged in and ready to work.’”
If, for whatever reason, your subordinate doesn’t take the conversation well and becomes combative, adjourn the meeting for another time and consider reaching out to HR for guidance. Be sure to write down everything that transpired, so documentation exists in case the matter ends up being revisited or escalated.
Fielding a Client/Partner Complaint
No matter how conscientious you are in your role as facilities manager or how well-trained the staff is, mistakes happen, and it’s critical to address them swiftly and honestly when confronted by a client. Owning up to and apologizing for the mistake is the critical first step, Dominguez said.
“Acknowledging [the mistake] goes a long way,” she says. “Then, I always throw a positive in.”
That positive could be thanking them for their many years of business, reminding them of a high-profile program you completed together or acknowledging a recent referral they made on your behalf.
Then, ask for an opportunity to fix the problem. By reminding them of your mutual wins, you’ll have hopefully regained enough trust that they will put their faith in you to offer solutions — if it even comes to that. Through listening to your client, you may discover they don’t need a fix at all, said Corinne Dwyer, Director of Global Events at ConnexFM.
“Sometimes all they need is for you to hear them and understand,” she said. “They just need that outlet to vent. Remember: Everybody’s human.”
YP SMART Session Series - Difficult Conversations, Rewarding Results
In 2021, the Young Professionals Committee held a three part series discussing how to approach higher-ups for raises, promotions, and professional development, and discuss how to adapt to managing new leadership roles.
Register for the next SMART Session at events.connexfm.com.