Having difficult conversations with employees
For many of us, one of the most challenging aspects of managing employees is having difficult conversations. They could be anything from serious performance or behavioural issues to addressing bad BO.
We will sometimes put off having these discussions, hoping (though not believing) that the problem will go away.
The danger of procrastinating over employee issues is that the situation may escalate or other employees will emulate the problem. Worse still, your good employees become resentful that you are not dealing with the concern.
Fear of conflict is usually the reason we avoid these conversations, which is understandable. Some employees really struggle with receiving feedback and get defensive and even combative. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you deliver the news, there will be a poor reaction from the employee. If they feel cornered, they are more likely to lash out. It’s an instinctive survival mechanism.
Often the employee will appreciate your feedback and use it as a learning opportunity. These are the conversations that will make it easier for you to conquer your fears and will give you confidence to facilitate difficult discussions in the future.
Steps for successful conversations
- Gather the evidence that you need so your feedback is not anecdotal.
- Ensure that your business’ expectations are clear and that the employee has understood these expectations.
- Consider what is the best time and place for the conversation.
- Organise a witness to conversations that involve disciplinary coaching. The witness should be another manager or HR representative; never another team member.
- Practice the conversation beforehand to prepare yourself, but don’t read off a script.
- Start the conversation with an open question, which sets the scene for open dialogue. Simply asking, “how is everything going” is a good start.
- Coach the employee so they understand the reason for the requirements. What impact does their behaviours, attitudes or lack of performance have on the company, their job and other team members? If they can see that there are solutions and that you care enough to help them progress, then the conversation can have long term, positive results.
- The conversation should be an open, two-way dialogue.
- Your delivery technique is important. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s style. You want to be authentic or the employee will feel confused and uncomfortable.
- If the issue you are addressing is not drastic, don’t be drastic with your process.
- End the conversation on a positive note. They should leave the meeting believing they can do better and wanting to do better. Ideally they should not associate time with you as a punishment or only when they are in trouble.
Don’t be emotional;
- Keep to the facts.
- Be solution orientated, not playing the “blame game”.
- Avoid language like, “I’m disappointed” or “I feel”.
- If emotions get too much by either party, pause and reschedule the meeting. If people are triggered, they will not be listening to what is being said.
Being consistent and not making people feel singled-out is the key.
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