Having difficult conversations is perhaps one of the most challenging roles a manager can undertake. It is, however, one of the more important things for a manager to master, at least according to a recent study into the topic.
The study examined just how managers typically respond when an employee comes to them with negative feelings. The authors wanted to test how this response contributed to subsequent feelings about the manager by those employees.
Types of Response
The study uncovered four common types of response to such concerns by employees:
- Modifying the situation – in this scenario, the manager would attempt to address the situation that caused the negative feeling
- Cognitive change – the second type would involve trying to shift the perspective of the employee so that they could reframe the situation and hopefully learn from it
- Distraction – the third approach would be to try and distract the employee, perhaps by telling a joke or lightening the mood
- Modulating the response – the final method would see the manager try and suppress the negative emotions by requesting the employee just get on with things
Why It Matters
To understand how these different approaches influence employees, the researchers quizzed each participant on the quality of their relationship with the manager, and indeed how much they enjoyed their work. The bosses were also quizzed on how engaged they felt employees were, as exhibited by helping others.
So, which approaches worked best? The results suggest that both resolving the problem and putting the problem into perspective helped to enhance the relationship between manager and employee. Unsurprisingly, suggesting the employee get on with things did little to build a healthy relationship.
It should come as no real surprise, as the first two approaches suggest that the manager cares about the wellbeing of their employees, and is, therefore, interested in helping them resolve their issue. The latter suggests anything but that.
I suspect that having these kinds of conversations with colleagues at work will remain one of the hardest aspects of management, but hopefully this insight will go a little way toward helping you construct them in a positive manner.