7 Tips for Difficult Conversations

No one likes to have difficult conversations. But if you’re a manager, chances are it’s part of your job. When it comes to talking to an employee about poor performance or behavioral issues, there are a few things you can do to help the conversation go as smoothly as possible.

Here are seven tips for difficult conversations:

  1. Talk specifics. Prior to the conversation, gather specific examples of the behavior or issue you’re preparing to address and the applicable expectation or policy. Stick to the facts and avoid general statements.
  2. Write notes. Think of what you want to say and how you want to say it ahead of time. As with public speaking, it’s best to have short bullet points on hand, rather than a fully scripted speech. Remember, it is a conversation, not a lecture.
  3. Be timely. Try to address the situation as soon as possible. Your goal should be to work with the employee on a path for improvement. Allowing too much time to pass will only make it more difficult to address the issue.
  4. Listen. Acknowledge that the employee probably has a different perspective on the situation and take the time to hear their thoughts. Not only will it show that you care, but it may provide insight into why the issue developed and how to turn things around.
  5. Document the conversation. Depending on the situation, you may want to have the employee sign formal documentation or you may simply send a follow-up email recapping what was discussed. Either way, it’s important to have a written record on file.
  6. Focus on improvement. The goal of the conversation should be improving the performance or behavioral issue so the employee can be a productive part of the team. You’ve already invested in this person, so focus on developing that investment before considering it a lost cause. Engage the employee on ideas for improving and make the plan for improvement part of your documentation.
  7. Consider a witness. Again, depending on the employee and the situation, you may consider having a third-party witness sit in on the conversation. This could be an HR representative or another member of the management team. If the employee becomes upset or later files a claim, having a witness present can help protect against risk.

Remember, you’re not alone! Having difficult conversations with your employees is a challenge for many managers, and Achilles Group is here to help. Talk to one of our experienced HR professionals at 281-469-1800.

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