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4 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations

In a perfect world, everything would go swimmingly with your staff at all times and the office would be free of conflict. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and the same probably goes for your work environment. Every so often you will have to sit an employee down and give them bad news whether it’s they aren’t getting a raise or promotion, a negative performance review or even worse—that you have to let them go. None of those conversations are easy to have, but they are even more difficult if you don’t know what to say going into them. Nothing can ease the pain your bad news will most likely bring to your employee, but the situation can be a lot smoother if you’re not stammering or beating around the bush during your talk. Here are a few tips to make your difficult conversations a little bit easier. Be Prepared Coming down on an employee is not easy, but it can go better if you are prepared from the beginning. If you are talking to a staff member about being late to work frequently, point out specific days and times. Don’t say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been coming to work late a lot recently.” The same goes for if you’re talking to an employee about their slipping performance. It’s not enough to say you’ve observed their work isn’t meeting expectations; show them what’s not working so they know where they need to improve. Unless you are terminating the employee, you should also use the time to explain to the employee how they can do better. Telling them that they aren’t doing well is only half of the discussion. To prevent this kind of meeting from happening again, it’s crucial to come up with an action plan to help the employee improve their performance. Try to keep things positive Difficult conversations can also be easier if the tone is positive. Even if the meeting is disciplinary in nature, don’t label it that way. Instead say you want to have a, “quick chat.” If your employee gets a negative feel before the conversation even begins, they will probably go into it defensive or unreceptive to what you have to say. You can get things going a positive direction by starting off with a question rather than a lecture. Ask the employee how they feel things are going or begin by saying you have some ideas on how they could improve, but first you’d like to hear what suggestions they might have. Just because the reason for the meeting is a negative one, it does not mean the actual meeting has to be. You want your employee to leave that meeting feeling motivated to do better. If they come out of it feeling discouraged or dejected, their performance might become worse and you’re having the same conversation again before you know it. Keep the matter private When it comes to a difficult conversation with an employee, the fewer people who know about it the better. Hold these type of meetings in your office or a room with a door. It is uncomfortable enough for your employee, and yourself, to be having this type of conversation; don’t make it worse by letting the rest of the office hear it, too. If your employee wants to share what you talked about with others, that’s their choice, but do everything in your power to preserve their dignity and keep the contents of the conversation between the two of you. Keep your emotions in check—no matter what Ideally, your difficult conversation with your employee would go like this: you’d tell them what they’re doing wrong (in a positive way of course), they’d say they understand or give you their side of the story, together you’d come up with a plan for how they can improve and they’ go on to have a successful tenure at your small business. There is a chance it may not go that way however. Not everyone take criticism well, even if it is constructive. If your employee doesn’t respond to your concerns well and begins to get upset or lash out, it’s your job to remain calm and get the conversation back on track. Nothing will get accomplished if you start screaming back at them. Keeping your cool will hopefully encourage your employee to regain their composure and you get back to having a productive conversation. If the employee shows no signs of calming down, end the meeting and say you will reschedule. Hopefully the break will give them a chance to recollect their thoughts and now that they know what’s coming, they’ll be prepared to handle it more calmly. There isn’t much that’s easy about being the boss, least of all having a difficult conversation with an employee. Hopefully you won’t have to have them too often, but when you do, just remember to stay calm, be prepared and try to frame the discussion in a positive way. The point of these conversations is to help your employees get better, not make them feel worse.

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