How To Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

These six tips can turn a confrontation into a conversion

How To Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

I was talking to one of our sons about a work situation he was dealing with. He’s a manager at an online retail company that is not too big but has grown over the last few years.

There had been an ongoing issue with the shipping manager. Both our son and one of the owners were going to have a reset meeting with that person.

Our son was looking for some advice. Here is what I offered him.

Be Consistent
You and the company owner need to be on the same page about who will take the lead role in the interaction. Whoever is not taking the lead role needs to know when he can step into the conversation.

In a highly charged situation, it is important to have one person lead the conversation and the other person offer supporting information, as needed. That clarity makes it easier for the employee, whose attitude needs to shift a bit to hear what is being presented.

Be Objective
Remember to breathe. This is not about him, it is about what the company expects from all its employees.

Most of us don’t like conflict. The prospect of dealing with conflict puts a person on edge. And when that occurs, out goes the ability to deal with things in the heat of the moment as well as we would want to. Staying calm is key.

Be Specific
No generalities. "You did this on this day with this person. Here is why that is not acceptable."

Facts make the difference in these conversations. Avoid generalities. Write down notes before the meeting so you won’t be relying on your memory.

Be Clear
What are the expectations for employees at the company. Was this employee ever informed of them? If not, get clear.

Too often, clarity about expectations had never been established. How can one be held accountable for what was never laid out early in the relationship? 

Be Definitive
Whatever is agreed to, be sure to write it down and get everyone's agreement that that is what was discussed and decided.

It is vital to drive the conversation to conclusion before ending the meeting, whatever is agreed to. People’s memories tend to alter as time goes by. But it’s hard to dispute what gets written down and distributed to the attendees.

Be Ready
Come to the lunch with everything needed to say goodbye to the employee—the final paycheck, etc. You never know.

Like the Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared. You never know what the outcome will be. Be prepared for whatever it might be.


Our son let me know after the meeting that it went well. The employee is expected to modify his behavior in a meaningful but realistic way. To our son’s relief, the employee knew what the conversation was to be about and came prepared to be more accountable for his behavior going forward!

If you are in business or part of a family (just about everyone alive is involved in at least one of those) you will have to be part of a difficult conversation at some point. May you find the advice I offered our son helpful.

 

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