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How to ask confrontational questions and avoid grievances

Struggling with challenging conversations at work? Discover expert tips to handle difficult discussions about performance and attitude, avoiding common pitfalls like avoiding the issue or losing your temper.
You’re the manager who has just masterminded a famous if surprising cup win after what has been a disastrous season. Before the game the rumour was your dismissal was inevitable. What people want to know is has this big win saved your job. Asking the question in the middle of victory celebrations is not going to go down well. As a journalist you’re paid to ask these questions but managers have been known to ban journalist who upset them. This is not dissimilar to the line manager challenging a member of their team about their attendance, performance, negative attitude or cynical comments. Get it wrong and you could find your self the subject of a grievance or accused of bullying.
Don’t put it off. Tempting as it may appear not acting now will result in a bigger problem latter. What’s more if this person appears to get away with it others may start to copy. Just as for any important meeting it’s important to prepare in advance, have your facts at your finger tips, rehearse mentally how you are going to start the conversation and what you are going to say. Don’t be vague be specific.
Keep the pleasantries to a minimum without being terse or rude but conveying the seriousness of the meeting- this is not a friendly chat. Send a clear message about what you find unacceptable. Let them have their say.Be prepared for a reaction, if they get upset or angry, let them, better now than later. Think about how you’re going to end the meeting, confirm what you have said in writing, set a follow up meeting, brief HR/your line manager.
If this advice seems rather basic and unnecessary I would refer you to research by CMI that found 80% of managers had no training in these conversations. Of even greater concern was that 43% of senior managers admitted to losing their temper and shouting when placed in a difficult conversation while 40% admitted panicking and telling lies.
Equally as important as guidance and training for managers is to have a corporate culture that is proactive in dealing with problems and instils a sense of responsibility into team leaders and managers. The culture should encourage employees to want and expect feedback and for managers to provide it consistently, positively and constructively.
Having such a culture in place will then help individual managers to feel supported and more confident in asking difficult questions as part of difficult conversations.

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