6 Tips for Discussing Difficult Workplace Issues

As in businesses of any type or size, managers in portable restroom and septic services companies need the right leadership tools for communicating with team members, vendors, customers, and others to work through various issues that can be expected to come up. Below are six essentials for framing issues and options, and for clear and simple strategies for partnering with the people involved, to work toward the best available solutions.
Leading effectively during difficulties can help minimize dissatisfaction and consequent employee and customer attrition rates. Your top worker talent, best customers, preferred vendors, contractors, and others are more likely to be inspired to pull together with you and become an even more integral part of your company’s successful operation if you can lead well during the challenging times.
This means managing difficult communications in a way that generates the kind of trust that comes from people seeing that you are looking out for the future of the company and their best interests.

Common Workplace Issues

There are virtually countless typical problems that business owners in the septic services and portable restroom rental industries must address with internal and external parties. Difficult workplace issues can include, for examples:

Impending layoffs
Reducing work hours
Managing fatigue during ongoing overtime
Worker performance
Raise amounts Role boundary changes
Inclusivity issues
Customer Service issues
Personal struggles impacting reliability
Contractor performance Dealing with problematic customers
Economic uncertainties
Safety issues
Vendor Pricing concerns
Profitability problems

Preparing in Advance for Difficult Workplace Discussions

Although business owners don’t enjoy dealing with awkward conversations about difficult matters at work, being prepared in advance can help reduce the discomfort and ease the anxiety for all involved.
Whether you need to encourage a worker to improve personal performance, or deliver bad news about reducing payroll hours, or send an employee to deal with a difficult customer, etc., having a plan in advance is key to managing the encounter as well as possible for everyone affected.
In all cases of unavoidable difficult conversations, brace yourself to handle the encounter graciously, sincerely, and respectfully. Those are the hallmarks of leadership professionalism in such cases.
Maintaining these strong managerial attributes in handling difficult workplace conversations can make the difference between unnecessary panic by investors, worker attrition, customer dissatisfaction, or other negative outcome and keeping your business operating smoothly through challenging situations.

Typical Kinds of Difficult Workplace Conversations

The varieties of difficult workplace discussions are seemingly endless. Even though the majority of tough topics to be discussed are likely to be with employees, there are many other uncomfortable conversations you can expect to have as a business owner with contractors, clients or customers, suppliers, lenders, partners, investors and others engaged in some form of work activity with you.
Difficult discussions you can expect to have in your portable restroom rental or septic services business might

include, for some specific examples:

• Negotiating a customer rate increase
• Approaching a vendor for a service rate reduction
• Asking for revised contract repayment terms
• Negotiating an employee raise
• Dealing with a difficult personality
• Apologizing for an error your team has made
• Terminating employment
• Canceling a vendor contract
• Advising investors that the business is not turning a profit
• Advising a customer that there is a problem with an order
• Working with a frustrated or angry customer
• Settling employee disputes
• Resolving problems of bias among team members
• Providing constructive criticism
• Countless other controversial business matters

Fortunately, although the kinds of difficult workplace discussions might be infinite in number, the simple strategy for managing such conversations is the same across all the types.

6 Ways to Manage Difficult Workplace Conversations

Here are six essential tips for conducting difficult discussions with your employees, vendors, customers, investors, and anyone else you need to deal with on a controversial subject involving your business:

1. Don’t procrastinate or avoid having the discussion.

Most business owners don’t like conflict, but putting off necessary confrontation of important workplace issues can only increase the magnitude of the problem. Therefore, naturally, waiting longer to address an issue can make it feel even harder and harder to face as time goes by. So, as soon as you discover that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, promptly schedule a meeting to get it out in the open and resolve it.
Perhaps you have a long-time client who is unhappy with a change you’ve made in your services. Waiting too long to let them be heard could frustrate them and motivate them to switch providers, resulting in a loss of business for your company.
For another example, if an employee repeatedly makes the same mistake, or continues missing deadlines or meetings, etc., you need to have the dreaded talk about performance problems, before it begins to impact your service quality, team morale, profit margins, or causes other issues threatening the smooth operations and overall success of your business.
Waiting too long to address the problem may cause the discussion to be more difficult than it could have been if dealt with in a more timely manner. The employee may feel unfairly treated, not understanding why you hadn’t said anything earlier, and given them an appropriate opportunity to correct the problem before it became a prolonged performance problem on their employee record.

2. Be specific and upfront about the objective of the discussion.

Among the top advice for business leaders on the question of how to prepare for difficult workplace conversations, is to set a goal for the meeting and then striving to meet that goal by focusing tightly on the particular issue that is the topic of the meeting.
This focus is essential to keeping everyone on track during the discussion, so that the meeting does not give way to participants zeroing in on minor details of the issue that are not pertinent to the bigger picture, or worse, drifting off to entirely unrelated controversial topics and causing the discussion to spin out of control — potentially unrecoverable. So, make it very clear, upfront, to everyone involved exactly why the discussion is taking place.
This helps all parties process the totality of the issue and proposed solutions and envision the realization of the end goal. For example, if a sales employee is not performing well over time, the purpose of your meeting may be to evaluate their appointment-setting strategy or closing technique or to analyze their overall strategy for meeting benchmarks. The goal of the meeting may be for them to increase their sales by some percentage, by working with you to modify their approaches in one or more areas of their process.
In addition to helping everyone limit their parts in the discussions to the most relevant facts and avoid wandering off into the weeds (less pertinent details), clarifying the purpose of the meeting can also help everyone measure their behavior during the discussion and help keep emotions and language in check.

3. Listen carefully, and make it clear that you understand their position.

Throughout even the most difficult discussion, stay grounded in your leadership responsibility to guide the interaction professionally. That means, be respectful of the other person. Don’t dominate the entire conversation. Listen carefully to what each person present has to say. Do not dismiss or ignore anyone’s comments.
When comments are made that are not essential to the problem or to a solution that can achieve the specified goal of the discussion, just say, “We may have to look more at that point at a future time,” and steer the conversation back on track. Instead of hurting feelings or offending participants, this can help them habituate staying within the limited boundaries you’ve set for the discussion.
In many cases of problems that seem to have clear causes and responsible parties, surprisingly, their multiple viewpoints. Regardless of who is responsible, listening enables you to understand all previously unrevealed points of view on the issue, which is essential to determining a robust solution.
So, remember, you do not need to do all the talking. Listening can be at least as productive in a difficult discussion. It enables you to understand the other person’s perspective and to dig down to the bottom of the problem. It also encourages all involved to follow your example of remaining humble, calm, polite, and demonstrating caring for others involved.
After you hear the other person’s position, repeat it back, to show that you care about their thinking and to confirm that you do understand what they mean, before you respond. This method of sharing opportunities to talk and listen is naturally more likely to lead to more productive and less emotionally charged discussions than you can accomplish by seeming to talk to people instead of talking with them in difficult situations.

4. Be prepared with the best available options for win-win solutions.

Difficult discussions should not be treated solely as opportunities to vent about grievances. Such meetings need to be constructive too. Airing complaints without striving to settle on solutions is not only pointless, but it’s also counterproductive, and it can be destructive to important working relationships.
Seek advice, as needed, on ideas for win-win solutions, before entering into the difficult discussion. Coming in with a list of potential solutions is part of planning for your meeting. It provides support for the boundaries that will keep the discussion on track. It also shows that there are available solutions to the problem, and it helps everyone involved visualize their role in the ultimately proposed plan of action.
Employees, vendors, and customers can bring a wealth of creative ideas for solutions, from their diverse experiences and perspectives. In issues affecting the business, first, shape your ideas into a tentative plan. Perhaps discuss it with trusted friends, family, SBA counselors, or others, and then seek input from your team, customers, vendors, or other interested parties.
Formulate a simple plan for your meeting that leads to settling on a viable solution. If that’s not possible without the input of the person you will be having the difficult discussion with, then explain at the beginning of the meeting that you plan to use the meeting to work with them to develop solutions that they, or you, or both of you can take action to implement.

5. Offer some perspective and encouragement.

No matter what the issue, even during an employment termination, words of encouragement during and on the way out cannot make the situation worse and may help a reeling employee or contractor who is heavily dependent upon your business to stay tethered to a realistic, positive outlook on the future.
For example, to fit a range of situations, it’s okay to straightforwardly explain, “Look, I’m well aware that this is a very rough situation. For some perspective, resolving things in a way that makes sense for the business ultimately makes the best sense for your interests in the long run. Because it’s not actually in your interest for us both to try to maintain an arrangement that is just not viable.”

6. Analyze the discussion afterward, and review alternatives.

Getting through a tough conversation is only part of the leadership challenge. There’s more work for you to do, to ensure that you have done all that can be done to resolve the difficult situation in the best possible way for all affected.
Evaluate the conclusion of the discussion, the decision(s) made, agreements reached. Be sure that these are sufficient all around and that nothing has been agreed in the high tensions of the moment that neither you nor anyone else involved will later recognize as an unrealistic solution.
Then, follow-up at the appropriate time/date with the parties involved, to ensure that they are adjusting appropriately to the outcome of the discussion, (normally except in cases of employment or contract termination).
If the solution involved some required action from them, check in to ask about their progress. If you were required to take action, let them know the details of your progress.
Leadership in Difficult Workplace Discussions
The most effective business leaders develop a habit of sharing not just announcements of successes and exciting goals and strategic plans with their teams. They also promptly share concerns and information about serious challenges facing the business, and they seek out input from employees, vendors, customers, and others on issues, as appropriate.
Remember to track the progress of solutions implemented, provide the interested parties with updates, and lead forums for discussion, perhaps following routine meetings with those affected. When needed, remember to provide some basic affordable diversions for the people involved, to help relieve stress and strengthen critical bonds.
Just being content that your internal and external business relationships are lasting from week to week leaves many small to medium-sized business owners without sufficient preparedness when serious issues inevitably arise. When the time comes for difficult workplace discussions, you must be ready to successfully lead your employees, vendors, and customers through the trouble, to keep your company’s critical relations and smooth operations intact.
To maintain stability in your progress toward your strategic goals for your portable restroom or septic services business, practice the above tips for handling inevitable contingencies. Keep this list handy, to help you keep everyone on track during difficult discussions, keep reactions within appropriate proportions, and achieve win-win solutions.

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