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Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and Can Have a Lasting Impact on Company Culture

CultureWorx Tough Conversations Blog Post 01 31 2023 Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and Can Have a Lasting Impact on Company Culture

How you, as a business leader, handle the ‘tough conversations’ can make all the difference in morale, employee engagement, and retention. How you communicate when the going gets tough matters.

Business leaders, here’s a common scenario: You have to have a talk with an employee about a difficult subject. Perhaps they are consistently disrupting others, or their attitude and output have been on the decline, or maybe their colleagues are worried about the employee’s contributions to team projects.

No matter the circumstances, how you, as a business leader, handle the situation can make all the difference in the lasting impressions of your workplace culture.

Mishandled Communication is a Leading Cause of Workplace Toxicity and Can Lead to High Turnover and a Myriad of Other Employee Issues

  1. Loss of trust: If an employee feels that a difficult conversation was handled poorly, they may lose trust in their leader or the company as a whole. Without trust, employees are unlikely to view their workplace as a safe space. Feeling unsafe at work can lead to decreased engagement and productivity, as well as higher turnover rates.
  2. Negative morale: Poorly-handled difficult conversations can contribute to a negative work environment and decrease overall morale. An ineffective business leader does not place value in active listening. If employees feel that their concerns are not being taken seriously or that they are not being heard, they may become disengaged and unmotivated.
  3. Decreased communication: Mishandling conversations about difficult work subjects can lead to employees becoming hesitant to share their thoughts and ideas openly at work. When employees do not see the value of their ideas reflected in their workplace, they are less likely to contribute ideas in the future. This can negatively impact the company’s ability to innovate and adapt to change.
  4. Damaged relationships: Difficult conversations can strain relationships between employees and leaders. Despite inherent workplace hierarchies, employees still deserve to be treated fairly and diplomatically. If an employee feels that a leader is not treating them with respect or is not listening to their concerns, it can lead to a breakdown in communication and collaboration.
  5. Loss of reputation: Companies that have a reputation for poor communication and a negative work environment may have trouble attracting and retaining top talent. Prospective employees have vast amounts of information available to them to get a cursory understanding of a company before even sitting down for the first interview. Additionally, if current employees have negative experiences, they may be more likely to share their experiences with others, including that prospective top talent, and damage the company’s wider reputation.

Ultimately, handling a tough employee conversation poorly can have a ripple effect throughout your organization and severely impact your company culture.Negative workplace communications affect trust, morale, relationships, and reputation. 

In the end, one mishandled conversation  can dampen productivity and lead to people heading for the exits. It is important to approach difficult conversations with empathy, active listening, and direct and honest communication to minimize the negative impact on company culture.

Here are 5 Tips to Help Have Difficult Employee Conversations without Negatively Impacting Company Culture

  1. Prepare in advance: Before having a difficult conversation, take the time to prepare what you want to say and how you want to say it. Think through the message you want to convey and the outcome you hope to achieve. Consider any potential objections or concerns the employee may have and be ready to address them.
  2. Choose the right time and place: Timing is everything when it comes to having difficult conversations. Choose a time and place that is private and allows for undivided attention. Avoid having the conversation in a public area or during a busy time at work.
  3. Be direct and honest: When having a difficult conversation, it’s important to be direct and honest. Be clear about the issue at hand and the impact it is having on the company. Avoid sugarcoating the situation or being vague about the problem.
  4. Listen actively: It’s important to actively listen to the employee’s perspective when having a difficult conversation. Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Show that you are listening by summarizing what they have said and acknowledging their concerns. Be mindful of your body language during the conversation.
  5. Be empathetic: Empathy is key when having difficult conversations. Show the employee that you understand their perspective and that you care about their well-being. Avoid being dismissive or condescending. Instead, try to see things from their point of view and show that you want to work towards a solution together.

Conclusions for Culture-Minded Business Leaders

Having difficult conversations with employees is a necessary part of being a business leader. However, it’s important to approach these conversations in a way that doesn’t hurt company culture. Prepare in advance, choose the right time and place, be direct and honest, listen actively, and show empathy.

With these straightforward and sensible skills, business leaders can have tough conversations with employees while still maintaining a positive work environment.

Improve Company Culture with Effective Communications Tools from CultureWorx

Isn’t it time you addressed your workplace culture? Good, bad, healthy, or unhealthy—your company culture exists and is impacting your business daily—whether you acknowledge and manage it or not. CultureWorx is the first-of-its-kind SaaS solution to manage, measure, and improve company culture.

CultureWorx allows you to build your desired company culture around your core values with the in-app training, measuring, and reporting tools that will help you improve your culture and sustain it over the long haul.

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