Difficult conversations with employees are part of a line manager’s role.
Any conversation that you would rather not have can result in you expecting it to be a difficult one. However, issues need to be dealt with before they escalate into more serious problems, so in this series of blogs we’ll look at how best to handle them.
Issues that managers find difficult to raise with employees include:
- delivering bad news, such as confirmation that an employee is being dismissed
- providing feedback on performance
- raising an issue of misconduct
- raising the issue of an employee’s personal hygiene
- addressing a conflict between colleagues
- acknowledging that the line manager was wrong and the employee was right.
What happens if you ignore the issue?
Failing to have a conversation to address the issue could have a number of potentially serious consequences:
- The issue may interfere with your own work
- If an issue of poor performance or misconduct is left unchecked, the employee may think that the situation is acceptable
- Failing to address issues of poor performance or misconduct will make it more difficult for you to impose a disciplinary sanction at a later date
- If left unresolved the issue may cause productivity problems for the individual, the team and the organisation
- If the issue that needs to be addressed is the employee’s failure to pull his or her weight, failing to address it may cause problems with the employee’s colleagues who may have to pick up the individual’s slack
- A loss of respect for you as a manager and the organisation as a whole can develop.
Once you have decided to address the issue by having a conversation with the individual, you should conduct it in an appropriate manner so that both parties use the situation to maximum benefit. There are five key areas that you should consider.
Effective preparation for the meeting will help you get across what you want to say without losing sight of the objective. There are several strands to effective preparation:
- Investigate the issue before the meeting to be able to provide evidence
- Decide what the ideal outcome of the conversation would be
- Think carefully about the differences between your character and that of your employee. You could adapt your style of doing things to assist with understanding and acceptance of the message by your employee.
- Think about your frame of mind before having the conversation
- Concentrate on the issue rather than the individual
You should prepare any materials that may be needed for the meeting, including extra copies of documents for the employee. You can also practise what you are going to say, particularly any opening statement or questions.
A difficult conversation should always be conducted in private so that neither the line manager nor the employee is embarrassed and so that you both feel that they can speak freely. You should allow sufficient time to enable proper discussion.
It is important for you to communicate the issue clearly, so that there are no misunderstandings. You must also put the message across in a way that is constructive, even though the information may seem negative.
Set the right tone: begin the conversation in a professional manner as this will encourage a professional attitude throughout the meeting and help to achieve a successful outcome.
State the issues clearly: To avoid misunderstanding, state clearly what the issue is. Praise or positive comments can be useful, but you should not let this cloud the message that you need to impart.
Put the issue in context: Demonstrate why the issue is important.
Give specific examples and evidence: If the message that needs to be imparted is that the employee has been refused a request for flexible working, it helps if you can give specific examples of why the request cannot be accommodated.
Focus on the issue, not the person: Avoid expressing your opinion about the employee. This can be done by sticking to the facts and avoiding generalisations and comments on the individual’s personality.
Avoid an attitude of blame: The issue needs to be addressed in a collaborative way. Managers should not approach a conversation with an attitude of ‘line manager versus the employee, but with an attitude of ‘both versus the problem’.
Avoid belittling the issue: Your own fear of a difficult conversation could lead you to belittle the issue. Avoid phrases such as “this won’t take long”, “it’s really not a big deal” and “I’m sure you’re aware of what I’ll be saying”.
Be positive: Managers should be bold and state that they want a successful outcome to the meeting. This will give a constructive tone and feel to the conversation even if the news seems bad. It also helps if you use positive words, such as “improvement” and “achievement”, rather than negative words, such as “failure” and “weakness”.
Body language: Be aware of your own body language so that it does not alienate the employee. Your attitude will usually be replicated by the employee.
There is a lot more to getting through difficult conversations with employees, including listening, exploring the issue and agreeing the next action, which we’ll cover in the next blog in this series.
If you need some help now with handling difficult conversations, contact us now and we can provide you with some free, impartial advice, to help you get started. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.