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7 Tips for Having Tough Conversations With Employees

Tough conversations with employees are one of the most uncomfortable parts of being an employer. To add to our stress, they can also sometimes open businesses up to unexpected liability. Nevertheless, these conversations are unavoidable and must happen in order for an organization to grow. In order to become better at their jobs, workers must sometimes be confronted with what they are doing wrong, even if the truth is unpleasant.

There are many ways to approach these conversations while keeping a stern yet compassionate tone to help minimize conflict. The next time you have to have a tough conversation with an employee, try the following tips to improve your odds of success.

1. Request a self-assessment.
Asking an employee to self-assess his or her own performance is a smart way to get an employee’s own perception of their work. They may think they are doing a fantastic job when improvement is needed, or they may admit struggle areas that you both agree on. Their self-assessment will help you assess how your directives will be received and allow you to plan the conversation.

2. Be open-minded.
Sometimes the main factors behind an employee’s poor performance are beyond their control. Don’t assume that discipline is the best way to fix the problem. First, ask a few questions:

• Are there challenges to the role that you are unaware of?
• Are there issues with other staff that could be hampering performance?

If these extenuating circumstances are affecting performance, be sure to give the employee a game plan on how these cases will change. Discuss solutions with the employee. They may have some insight on how to make things flow better.

3. Focus on the bottom line.
This is the key thing to remember. No matter how uncomfortable giving negative feedback may be, the ultimate goal is to run a successful business, which means getting the best possible performance out of all employees. Make sure your critique is all business, never personal. You can be constructive and critical without being mean or hostile, and you can always give advice that helps the employee’s career as much as the business.

4. Acknowledge positive opportunities.
When giving negative feedback, it is a good idea to focus on developing strengths. Coaching an employee to hone in and develop key skills can help him or her to perform at a higher level and give them the confidence to do so. Never assume they cannot improve.

5. Back up your feedback with examples.
Giving the employee examples of when they have fallen short of expectations will help them understand where they are going wrong. Don’t dwell on one single instance in which the employee dropped the ball. Everyone has a tough day from time to time, but if the issue is reoccurring, this could serve as a great example of what the employee needs to improve on.

6. Have a plan ready.
Don’t leave the plan for improvement up to the employee alone. Provide your own timetable and benchmarks for improvement, then work with the employee to fill in the plan. This will shed some positive light on the conversation because the employee will be given the opportunity to contribute to a solution.

7. Continue to provide feedback.
Don’t make any employee worry about where he or she stands. Continuing feedback is very important to keep this employee on track and confident in their ability to perform and also gives you the ability to coach them to correct certain attitudes and behaviors. The employee is more likely to be successful if they are receiving feedback throughout the year rather than just during review time.

For more information on how to handle potential conflicts in your workplace, please browse our library of online resources.

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