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Having the tough conversations

One of the more unpleasant tasks that managers have to perform, and thus often try and avoid doing, is having the difficult conversations with their staff. Let’s face it, no one really ‘likes’ to have these conversations with their employees. These conversations could be about almost anything – a particular performance issue, a behavioural issue or even something as basic as someone’s appearance or cleanliness. If you have managed in more than one company and/or industry for any amount of time I bet you have seen, heard or dealt with most of these types of issues as a manager.

Tough ConversationThe struggle for managers, due to the perceived difficulty of having these conversations, is that they often try and avoid having these conversations all together. We often “hope” that the performance issue sorts itself out, or that the person themselves will realize, some magically on their own, that they have a performance issue.  Better yet, we often (secretly) hope that one of their peers will mention something to them, (“Hey you aren’t pulling your weight; or, “you stink”) so we don’t have to! Here’s the thing, as managers, it is our responsibility for having these tough conversations. It is part of the job and the territory we signed up for.  If you can’t or are unwilling to talk to your staff about these types of issues, than you shouldn’t be a manager and for the love of all that is holy, please don’t expect HR to deal with this issues on your behalf!

There is, however, some good news for the managers in all this. If you are like most managers, you build up, in your mind, how these types of conversations are going to go. That is, you start to think of all the negative responses that your employee might come up with, or you start to conjure up in your mind how they will respond emotionally.  You even start think that perhaps they may become angry and volatile so once again you contemplate not having the conversation. Here is the thing; it has been my experience that rarely, if ever, do these tough conversations ever go this way. In fact, with a bit of preparation, the tough conversations don’t end up being that tough after all. I have delivered, and have coached many managers as well, on how to do this and more often than not, the employee response is something like, “thanks for pointing that out…I wasn’t aware.” This response, or ones like it, apply to anything from identifying performance issues to the above mentioned dreaded body odour issue.

So how do you best prepare and handle these types of conversations? For the most part it is pretty simple; just follow these basic steps and principles and you will be well on your way to managing these situations with more effectiveness:

1. Prepare: Gather the relevant information and facts about the situation. Make sure you are 100% certain in your information and aren’t meeting with your employee to talk about speculation. Rehearse the meeting with another manager (or HR) beforehand because the better prepared you are, the easier (and shorter) the meeting will be.

2. Focus on the issue not the person: Once you meet with your employee, get straight to the point. Don’t beat around the bush, simply present them with the information (facts) that you want to discuss. Never make it about personal characteristics or about the person themselves; you should always focus on the work issue.

3. Link the issue with the workplace impact: If their performance is impacting something, than identify where they are falling short, what they need to do to improve, how you can support them and what the performance expectations are. When your employee leaves the meeting with you, they need to be clear about what the issue is that you have identified and what it is that they need to improve. If you are discussing their ‘appearance’, than identify what the problem is (smell, revealing clothing, sloppiness) and what it is impacting (teamwork, clients, credibility, etc.) You can always lead in with, “I am not sure if you are aware or not; however I want to talk to you about something that is impacting your performance/credibility, etc.……” and then present them with the issue and impact.

4. Close firmly but humanely: Thank the person for listening to you, ask them for their cooperation going forward and reiterate the support you can provide going forward.

In a nut shell, that (can be) all there is to it. With a bit of preparation and by following those four steps, you can be better prepared to have the tough conversations with your employees. Over time, by utilizing the four steps, you may find that the tough conversations may not be that tough after all. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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