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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees

How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees

Sooner or later, every business owner will have to discuss poor performance, demotion or transfer, or even termination of employment with a staff member. Preparation is critical to completing these unpleasant but necessary talks. Experts have several common recommendations about how to have difficult conversations with employees.

Don’t Put it Off

Delaying the inevitable will only make the discussion more difficult. Your facts may grow stale or the situation you must address may get worse. Allowing poor performance and your resentment of it to fester is not a good way to set up a successful discussion. Employees sometimes genuinely have no clue that their behavior in meetings or their persistence in offering ideas that you have already rejected are problematic scenarios. Delay will make the surprise and embarrassment you inflict on the person worse and you risk an emotional confrontation.

Gather Your Facts and Practice Your Presentation

Spell out the facts that caused you to decide to have a discussion with the employee. If it is a performance issue, show them specific, documented examples of things that need improvement. Be prepared to cite policies the employee has violated and to briefly and firmly specify the expected improvements. Then, map out the discussion ahead of time and practice how you will succinctly and clearly convey your facts to the employee.

Get to the Point

Getting called into the boss’s office, invited to “take a walk,” or attending a meetup for coffee is nerve-wracking enough. Don’t keep an employee in suspense about why you are speaking to them. Keep it short, specific, respectful, and direct. Do not start a difficult conversation with an employee with a lot of improvised throat-clearing.

Remain Calm

Difficult conversations understandably generate emotional responses. That’s why it is critical to choose a place and time for the discussion where you know you can master your emotions. Having to let a long-term employee go, layoff workers during a crisis, or tell employees you sold your business can easily send you to the brink of losing your composure. Be ready and have strategies to keep your own emotional response in check.

Listen and Inform

Any employee on the receiving end of a difficult conversation should have the opportunity to ask questions. Do not, however, get into a debate about the facts. Direct questions toward understanding policies, but do not create any uncertainty about the necessity of compliance with them.

Offer Positive Solutions and Identify Desired Outcomes

You expect employees who come to you with a problem to bring a proposed solution with them. Therefore, you should offer them the same courtesy. If your expectations have not been met, provide positive steps the employee can take to rectify the problem. Specify the outcome you desire and your employee’s time frame for achieving it.

Knowing how to have difficult conversations with employees comes with the territory in business leadership. If you have an HR professional on your staff, have them join the conversation not only as a witness but also as support.