There’s nothing firm owners enjoy less than an awkward, difficult, honest conversation with a team member. Yet have them you must. There are times when one of your employees isn’t performing well, is behaving poorly, or is simply tap dancing on your last nerve. Usually, the team member provides no help in initiating these conversations, because he seems to be blissfully unaware that anything is amiss. You’re totally on your own. What should you do?
The answer is not to ignore the situation, no matter how expedient that may seem to you in the moment. You really do need to pull your head out of your spreadsheet and communicate, because a festering sore only gets uglier.
Here’s the good news: there are at least four things you can control in a hard conversation.
- Your mind. Get clear about your goals for the conversation by asking yourself three questions: What do I want for myself? What do I want for the other person? What do I want for our relationship? Be fully present, and listen deeply to what the other person has to say.
- Your mouth. Acknowledge the emotional nature of the conversation, both to yourself and the team member. Be specific about why you are meeting. Remember that your words as a leader are more powerful and memorable than you may realize. Choose them wisely.
- Your emotions. Whether you react on the fly or choose to respond with wisdom, kindness, and clarity is always up to you. If you can view a hard conversation as a search for understanding and agreement on next steps, you’ll be more comfortable than if you simply unload your negativity and desire to scold the other person.
- The circumstances. As the person initiating the talk, you can set the timing and the place. You’ll want to handle the issue promptly, but not when emotions are charged or your energy is low. If you’re meeting in person, reduce the physical space between you and the team member; sitting closer to someone increases your chance of truly connecting with them. If you’re virtual, at least lean in toward the camera so they can see you clearly. And for Pete’s sake, don’t try to have a hard conversation by email, text, or IM.
When you know one of these conversations needs to happen, take a step back to get some perspective, then take a deep breath. Then take the leap. Hard conversations will never be easy, and probably shouldn’t be. While their end result is not guaranteed, you can increase your possibility of success by giving thought and heart to your approach.
Melinda is Thriveal’s Community Group Facilitator. She believes that creating a happy environment at work is not just a noble goal: it’s smart business. After nearly a dozen years as a marketing director for an Albuquerque CPA firm, election to the Association of Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame, and another dozen years on her own, Melinda long ago adopted CPAs as her tribe. Using humor, directness, and clarity, she shows professionals how to understand what they really want. Then she helps them get it.