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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Employees

Nobody likes confrontation, but difficult conversations with your employees are inevitable. Most people have had bad experiences with difficult conversations in the past, so you tend to avoid them when they come up.

Avoiding issues, however, can lead to even bigger problems. Discussing issues as they arise can produce a better outcome and fix any unwanted behaviors quickly and easily.

Typical issues you might have to address could be inappropriate attire, poor hygiene, tardiness, or flirtatious behavior that could lead to a sexual harassment issue.

6 Steps for Successful Conversations

1. Schedule a Meeting

You don’t want to surprise your employee with a difficult conversation because they’ll immediately become defensive.

Instead, tell them you have some feedback you’d like to share and ask if now is a good time to discuss it or if they would like to pick another time. This gives your employee some control over how and when they’ll receive the feedback, which can change how receptive they are.

Make sure that you have the conversation in a private area, away from prying eyes and ears. You don’t want your employee to feel attacked or like their problems are on display for the whole company.

2. Ask Questions

After you’ve presented the issue to your employee, ask them how they see the problem. Before now, you only have one side of the problem – you want to find out as much as you can about the other side.

Give your employee as much time as needed to discuss their point of view and try not to interrupt or take anything personally.

3. Show You Understand

After your employee has explained their position, explain their side back to them. This will ensure that you understand where your employee is coming from and gives them an opportunity to correct you if you misunderstood something.

4. Help Clarify Your Position

Now that your employee has had a chance to share their point of view, share yours. Don’t minimize your employee’s position, however.

If more than one person has complained about this employee, don’t tell them who complained or that multiple people have complained because it will only make your employee embarrassed and less receptive.

Explain how changing their behavior will have a positive effect on their performance and mention any consequences if they don’t change their behavior.

5. Brainstorm

When you and your employee both understand each side of the issue, begin brainstorming solutions. Although you should come prepared with ideas, make sure to ask your employee what they think will work.

If you’re setting goals to help improve the behavior, make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) goals.

6. Follow-Up

After you and your employee have come up with solutions and set goals, check up with them to make sure they’re taking the necessary steps to change their behavior. Backsliding is possible, so set a follow-up meeting during the initial meeting to discuss positive and constructive feedback on the changes your employee has made.

Tips for Successful Conversations

  • Ask yourself some questions before the conversation:
    • What’s the purpose of the conversation?
    • What does my employee think of the situation?
    • Is my employee even aware there is a problem?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What would be an ideal outcome?
  • Before the conversation, jot down notes and key points to ensure you discuss everything needed and help you be more organized. If you’re organized and prepared for the conversation, you’ll be calmer.
  • Try to be as calm as possible during the conversation. If you’re calm, it will help your employee to stay calm and receptive.
  • If possible, frame the conversation in a positive way. For example, if you’re giving your employee a poor performance review, present the conversation as a development discussion.
  • Be clear, direct, and neutral.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Don’t ask your employee to have sympathy for you by saying “I feel bad for saying this” or “this is hard for me to say.”
  • Take your time responding to your employee.
    • By thinking about what you’re going to say, you’ll slow down the conversation, which will keep you and your employee calmer.
    • You’ll also make sure that you’re listening instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Document the conversation and include it in your employee’s general file.