How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Employees

graphic of how to have difficult conversation with your employees, two light bulb wearing boxing gloves fighting in boxing ring

Nobody likes confrontation, but difficult conversations with your team members are inevitable. You might have to address inappropriate attire, poor hygiene, tardiness, poor performance, or flirtatious behavior that could lead to a sexual harassment issue. If one of these issues arises and you avoid the topic, you might end up with an even bigger problem. Discussing the issue early can help you produce a better outcome and fix any unwanted behaviors quickly. Keep reading to learn six steps to having an awkward conversation with a staff member. 

1. Schedule a meeting  

If you have to have a difficult conversation, don’t surprise your worker because they’ll likely become defensive immediately. Instead, tell them you’d like to talk to them and ask when the best time to meet would be. This gives your employee some control over how and when they’ll receive the criticism, which can change how receptive they are. Then, be sure to schedule the meeting in a private area, away from prying eyes and ears. This way, your staff member won’t feel attacked or that 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, so you want to find out as much as you can about the other side. Give your team member 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 shared their position, explain their side back to them. This will ensure that you understand where they are coming from, and they’ll be able to correct you if you misunderstood something.  

Read also: 4 Ways to Become a Great Servant Leader 

4. Clarify your position 

Now, share your point of view without minimizing your worker’s feelings toward the issue. Don’t tell them who complained or that multiple people have brought the issue to your attention because it will only make your team member embarrassed and less receptive. Instead, explain how changing their behavior will have a positive effect on their performance and mention any consequences they’ll face if they don’t change their behavior. 

5. Brainstorm solutions 

Once you both understand each side of the problem, start brainstorming solutions. Give your staff member plenty of time to discuss what they think would work best. 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 possible 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 to discuss positive and constructive feedback on the changes your staff member has made. 

Tips for successful conversations 

  • Ask yourself some questions before the discussion: 
    • What’s the purpose of the conversation? 
    • What do I want to accomplish? 
    • What would be an ideal outcome? 
  • What does my worker think of the situation? 
  • Is my employee even aware there is a problem? 
  • Before the conversation, jot down notes and key points to ensure you discuss everything needed and help you be calmer and more organized.  
  • If possible, frame the issue in a positive way. For example, if you’re giving your employee a poor performance review, present the conversation as a development discussion. Read also: What is a Performance Improvement Plan? 
  • Be clear, direct, neutral, and compassionate. 
  • Take your time responding to your team member. By thinking about what you’re going to say, you’ll slow down the conversation, which will keep you and your worker be 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 staff member’s general file. Read also: 3 Employee Files Every Small Business Should Keep 

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