As small business owners, we are capable of building up a company from scratch, juggling a million and one tasks and surviving below the breadline for the sake of the enterprise. But when we’re called to the simple task of speaking out regarding something that’s disturbing us, particularly when it comes to issues like employee performance, we procrastinate for as long as possible. Usually until we can bear it no longer and we simply explode...

The good news is that communication experts say that most of our workplace conflicts can be easily resolved by learning the skills to an effective conversation. Ready to get talking? Here are some top chat tips:

Pipe up early
When we start noticing a problem, that has perhaps occurred more than once (for example, an employee arrives late for work consistently over a few weeks), it’s time to plan a conversation. Subtle hints, sarcasm or humour may seem like an easier route, but they will not work and your frustration and stress will start to build up as you see the problem continuing. Most of the time, the other person is totally unaware of how you are feeling and carries on in blissful ignorance. Schedule some time with them for a quick chat.

A safe start
When you create the right setting for a difficult conversation, you can say almost anything to anyone. An obvious first is to do it in private, in a meeting room where you cannot be overheard. It’s also important to schedule in enough time, so you’re not anxiously keeping a watch on the clock during your conversation. If you label the subject of the meeting upfront, it will help to alleviate apprehension of the unknown - for example the day before you might have added, 'I’m a bit concerned about time keeping in the office; can I have a few minutes to discuss this with you?' While the employee might still be anxious, at least they will have an idea of what the conversation is going to be about. Begin with a positive comment about the person, which will also help you to balance your emotions. Also make sure that your body language is positive (no crossed arms or stiff posture).

Rules of engagement
'The most important rule for effective conversations is to identify clearly the specific actions, facts or behaviour that you are concerned about, and then describe them clearly,' says Maureen Collins, author of the book: Straight Talk: Conversations at work that get results (Zebra Press, 2010). You don’t need to give a long-winded monologue (which some people use as a means to delay the hard truth), it’s best to keep it brief and factual. To continue the example of the late employee, you could say: 'I wrote down the times that you sat down at your desk over the last few weeks. Can we chat about this?' Then it’s time to listen. Acknowledge what they are saying and be empathetic and reasonable- there may well be a valid reason for the staff member’s tardiness. Then it’s time to work together towards a solution; as if the other party feels they have been involved they will be more likely to commit to it. Perhaps it would be feasible for them to come in half an hour later and work the extra time in the afternoon?

While you may feel smug about successfully having highlighted an issue early on (and so you should!) the real test is to see whether the problem has been permanently resolved. The last thing you want is for it to rear its head again in the future - so put a date in the diary for a follow-up meeting, to check that the new arrangement is working well for both parties. Enjoy the empowerment that comes with not being afraid to speak out in an effective, unemotional manner!