How to Handle the Tough Conversations

Image of two people having a conversationMany executives have no problem reprimanding a supplier for doing a poor job. They can easily pick up the phone and complain: “Your shipment arrived two days late and cost our company $10,000 in lost sales. What are you going to do about it?” But that same executive may agonize about how to address a performance issue with a subordinate. But hoping the problem will eventually go away is just wishful thinking.

When considering how to handle these types of situations, the first step is to prepare. Be sure you understand what happened, and gather any information needed to explain the problem to your subordinate in a way that he or she can understand. It might be helpful to prepare an informal script for the discussion using words and phrases that convey a professional tone. Starting a conversation with, “You screwed up,” followed by an angry comeback or a flood of tears is not recommended!

If you want the subordinate to learn from the situation and do a better job in the future, it’s best to keep the conversation on an even keel emotionally. Stick to the facts. Talk about what you believe went wrong and explain the negative results. Be respectful to the other person throughout the conversation.

One good strategy is called the “sandwich” technique. First, you compliment the subordinate for some action or decision in the past. Then you address the negative performance issue, followed by another positive comment, such as “I am confident that you can learn from this situation and do a much better job in the future.”

Throughout the conversation, be sure to give your subordinate plenty of opportunities to respond to your points. You may get new information about the situation or gain a better understanding of his or her thought process. Finally, document the conversation so you have a record of what happened and the expected outcome. That’s especially important if the subordinate’s performance fails to improve and termination becomes necessary.

Be clear, calm and considerate in handling those tough conversations. That’s the best way to get positive results.

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