3 Tips To Handle A Difficult Employee Conversation

Whether it’s addressing a concern, correcting a behavior or letting someone go, difficult conversations are never easy. However, in order to improve employee or team performance, these conversations are a necessity to have and part of being in a leadership position.

As uncomfortable as it sometimes is, it’s imperative to have these conversations and how you approach them is important. Here are 3 quick tips to help make difficult employee conversations a little easier.

1. Remember, It’s not about YOU.

The number one thing to remember is the conversation isn’t about you. It’s about the other person and bringing to their attention what needs to be addressed. Regardless of how hard it is for you to have the conversation, it’s even harder for the other person to hear it. Always keep the conversation focused on them and their personal development.

It’s human nature to want others to always like and approve of us. However, when you’re a leader sometimes you have to say and do things that others won’t like. The more you keep the focus on the other person and how you can help them improve, versus how the conversation is making you feel or look, the better the outcome.

2. Keep it simple.

Only address one behavior at a time. These conversations can be emotional and if you try to address several issues at once, it can become overwhelming and makes it more difficult for the other person to process. If there are multiple issues that need to be addressed, consider scheduling weekly performance meetings with the employee and discuss one topic at a time.

As their leader, if your employee has several performance issues that need addressing, take a moment to think about how well you’re leading them. Ask yourself if you’re quickly handling problems as they arise or if you’re letting things go. It’s always better to address situations sooner rather than later so the problems don’t compound.

3. Be honest and direct.

Follow the rule of say what you mean and mean what you say.

The best thing to do when having these difficult conversations is to be honest. Be specific and share exactly what it is you want to see improved. Don’t be beat around the bush or be vague to minimize emotions. By not being clear about what you would like to see changed or corrected, you’re doing the employee a disservice. They can’t be expected to improve something they aren’t aware of.

However, being direct doesn't mean you have to lack empathy. It’s possible to be honest, direct and still have compassion for the other person. Be mindful of your tone of voice and pause often during the conversation to let the other person express their point of view. Ask for their perspective of the situation and how they view their performance. If there’s a big swing in how they view their performance versus how you view them, perhaps you need to be more honest in your daily feedback. Make a commitment to them to be a better leader and mentor.

Before the end of any difficult conversation always share your desired goal by established an action to be taken and a result to be achieved. It’s always good to reinforce your confidence in an employee at the end of the conversation to keep things positive. It might sound something like this “As someone that believes in what you can accomplish I want to see you (desired action) so that (desired result).” Make it one simple sentence, get to the point, and be positive.  

For more tips on how to navigate these types of conversations, download my  FREE “How to Manage Difficult Conversations” guide.

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Career AdviceRen Burgett