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Four Steps to Prepare For a Tough Conversation With Your Employee


{#/pub/images/TimeforaToughTalk.jpg}Many leaders that I work with really want to focus on external activities.  Perfect planning.  Clear calendars.  Great goals.  It feels like you are getting a lot more done that way, right?


As a new leader, I would love it if you could avoid this trap.  Truly leading your team means that you are not just getting a bunch of work done, but there is harmony in your team.  Communication is clear.  Conflicts are constructive.  Engagement is high.


If you are focusing on external activities, you are probably avoiding the tough talks that need to be had.  More often than not, I find that it’s not that you, as a leader, don’t know the conversations need to be had.  It’s usually you don’t know where to start.  


What words should you use to have the conversation?  


When should you make the time to have the talk, and when shouldn’t you?


When working with a client recently, we talked about her new hire and how she was struggling to get that person to put forth the effort and level of professionalism they needed to be successful.  The new hire was in her first “real job” and has great intentions, but not the desired follow-through, yet.  Not wanting to micromanage, my client was struggling with figuring out how and when to talk to her new hire.


My leadership philosophy is that the more we can instill trust and expectations in our team members, the more they can rise to the occasion.  If we hold back, they hold back.  That’s why, to me, micromanaging does not work.  It actually does the opposite and causes people to put in less effort.


Here is a super simple strategy to go through if something did not go right with a person on your team.


Four Steps to Prepare For a Tough Conversation With Your Employee


1) First, ask yourself, what is it about the situation that makes it a mistake


List out everything.  Sounds silly or too simple, but often leaders have a hard time articulating what really made it a mistake.  If you cannot explain it, how can the employee understand?


2) Next, how would YOU like to have had it handled?  


Before you talk to the staff member decide what the right answer will sound like.  What words do you need to hear?  What non-verbal cues do you need?


3) After you define the mistake and how you would like it to go, ask yourself why does it bother you?  


Ask this question at least three to five times.  It will help you figure out the real reason.  


4) Similar to the second step, think through or write out what do you want to happen next (and/or next time)?  


Again, decide on what will make you feel and trust that the problem has resolved and progress is being made.  If you skip this step, you can end up feeling frustrated because you went through the tough talk, but then didn’t feel that great after it.  Then, the next time you might question yourself as to why you should bother.



Now that you are geared up with the information from the steps above, here is a sample conversation you may have.  Included, are some words that you can borrow and use as you see fit in your conversations.  Always make sure to use words that are common to you, make sense to you, and are genuine.


New Hire:  (makes mistake)

Faith:  Hey New Hire, I know we’ve been busy with X,Y, and Z projects, but can you tell me what happened with our (insert mistake)?  

New Hire:  I don’t know.  I forgot. Or something better or meatier if you are lucky.

Faith:  Oh, I get that, but help me understand what happened?


Then depending on the answer and the results you want, you further the conversation always working to get the new hire to say in their own words what will fix the problem.  The more the other person says it in their own words, the more it creates ownership and a better understanding for both you and them.  As you are discussing the mistake, continue to think about what you need to hear to know that it’s resolved.


Other sample questions:

  • I know you really want to learn A and B, help me understand how I can trust you to work on those bigger projects, if these little things fall through the cracks?

  • Professionalism is of utmost importance to our clients, what can we do to make this right?

  • Our business success is based heavily on our reputation to deliver what we promised, how can we make sure this doesn’t happen next time?

  • Nobody likes a micromanager, and I certainly don’t want to become one!  What can we do to ensure we offer stellar service?


Again, reword and choose words that fit your style and the mistake.  This super simple strategy will make the conversations you have so much easier on YOU and the recipient.  The idea is to get the work done (WELL) and in a happy way, right?   As with any new skill and tool, it will take practice, but after using it just a few times, you won’t avoid the conversations any longer!



{#/pub/images/EmilieShoop2014.jpg}Written by Emilie Shoop, Creator and Leader of Shoop Training & Consulting A sought after Coach, Mompreneur, Strategist, Mentor, Speaker, Author, Trainer & Business Consultant, Emilie works with people who are ready for that next level of success, and realize how they work with people is KEY.  Her coaching will help you lead, delegate, sell, collaborate, perform, influence, and relate with people to launch your success to the next level. She provides clients, teams and organizations the skills and tools for leadership and professional excellence.



Do you have a management question for Emilie?  Post it in our First Time Manager/Supervisor Community and she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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