Difficult Conversations!

Sat 02 Mar 2013

Angela Tracey-Brown

Product Manager - CMI

Blog Author
Emily Allen
Product Manager - HR & L&D

Ever had to have a difficult conversation with one of your team? Louise Hawkins has useful tips for those awkward meetings.

I am inundated with calls from employers at the end of their tether about ‘difficult’ employees. The root cause is invariably frustration about behaviour or attitude that is not good enough.

Managers faced with sub-optimal performance often avoid awkward conversations, for fear of making things worse. Many fear the reaction they’ll get from potentially confrontational or litigious staff, Actually, things usually get worse anyway, or at least the effect on the rest of your staff does. 

Here are some tips to help you manage potentially difficult conversations.

Check how you’re feeling! If you think you could lose your temper or show how frustrated you are, don’t ask the person to have that conversation until you feel less reactive.

Remember the 3 Cs - cool, calm and in control - when having a meeting with staff about any issue.

Ask them to meet you the next day or in the afternoon following the incident or problem.

If they ask you what the meeting is about, say you have made an observation which needs to be addressed and you don’t have time to deal with it right now.

Make notes before the meeting of what it is that you have seen (that was not good enough) and examples of what you expect.

At the meeting, explain that you have concerns in respect of ‘X’ behaviour or work performance, and it is your responsibility to bring the issues to the attention of the person or people concerned.

Explain what you saw/heard and why you found it sub-optimal or, in other words, below the standard you expect. 

Ask the person whether the situation was as you describe or had reported to you.

Wherever possible, ask questions, e.g. ‘what standards do you think I, as the manager, expect in these situations?’ and ‘why do you think this act doesn’t reach the standard I’m expecting?’.  Ask the individual to consider what they should/could have done differently and whether there is anything you, their manager, can do to stop this happening again.

It is common for people to shift the blame. If they blame others you can say that what they say is interesting but you are currently focusing on what you saw and/or was reported to you. If someone else is at fault, ask them who and why, and say you will investigate the situation and take appropriate action. 

Explain what you expect and ask them to summarise your expectations.

Follow up your meeting with a short email, thanking them for seeing you, outlining the discussion, agreeing the way forward in terms of acceptable standards and what was agreed between you.

Remember COOL, CALM, CONTROLLED (note everything down - even scribble it in a diary)

Just because this person has not been spoken to before about a behaviour or performance issue does not mean you should not start now - Good Luck! 

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