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4 tips for tough conversations with your employees

Sarah K. White | Sept. 22, 2016
Chances are if you haven't already had a difficult conversation at work, you will at some point. But these conversations don't have to be stressful. With a little effort, they can be productive and carry long-term benefits.

No one likes when difficult situations at work, but when these issues do arise, it's important that your focus remains on establishing a productive conversation where everyone feels heard.

"When difficult conversations do arise -- such as discussions about low performance, inconsistent results, frustrated clients -- a leader can confidently assess the current situation against previously defined expectations and a focus on identifying and closing the gap," says Anthony Abbatiello, global lead, Deloitte Leadership business.

When you approach tough conversations with professionalism and leadership, they can ultimately help guide the employee in their career by helping them figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are. However, it can still be just as difficult to deliver bad news at work as it is to receive it, but there are a few steps you can take to help make those tough moments at work easier on everyone.

Set expectations

It stands to reason that you can't expect people to perform to your expectations if you've never taken the time to articulate your expectations. Abbatiello says you should ensure that every employee understands early on what is expected of them in terms of performance and behavior. You can include it in the training, through clear and concise job descriptions, information on office culture and taking time to answer all of their questions.

"Tough conversations are often tough or feel tough if a leader has not established clear expectations with his or her employees. As a leader, it is paramount to clearly define your expectations of your team and team members. This is a conversation that you should be having on day 1, or as close to day 1 as possible," Abbatiello says.

Vip Sandhir, CEO and founder of HighGround, says that managers need to start out every tough conversation with clear expectations as well, whether it's about a change in behavior, a mistake or productivity issues. From there, you can build a conversation focused on the key points without getting off track, keeping the discussion professional, productive and on-point. Basically, you want to ensure that your employees understand it's not a personal attack, but that it's about a specific issue and expectations around that problem.

Foster relationships

If you take time to get to know your employees, tough conversations will naturally become less awkward or difficult. "The difficult conversation should not be the first time you're engaging in a face-to-face conversation with your direct report or mentee," says Abbatiello.

The best way to get to know your employees is to just have casual conversations with them -- in your weekly meetings, ask them how their weekend was or if they have any vacations coming up. You don't have to get over-personal, but establishing a friendly rapport will go a long way in making any difficult conversations easier. The more comfortable you are with your employees, and vice versa, the easier it will be to deliver difficult news with empathy and understanding.

 

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