If you're in a position where you need to have a difficult conversation with your employees...

Employee relations: Tips for those Difficult Conversations

A guide to having difficult conversations with your employees.

Do you dread having to sit your employees down to deliver ‘bad news’ for them about their performance? Do you put off having difficult conversations with your employees as a result?

Unfortunately, having difficult conversations with employees at some stage is inevitable. Every day we have clients asking how they can talk to their employees about their unacceptable behaviour or attitude.  In order to improve the performance of your employees and your business, at some point, you’re going to have to have some difficult conversations.

Being afraid of delivering bad news isn’t a new phenomenon. The phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ came from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, where messengers literally feared for their lives when delivering bad news. While times have changed since then, it’s still completely normal to feel apprehensive or anxious, particularly if you characterise the task as delivering bad news.

Here are some ways for you to consider to reduce the likelihood that those conversations will be ‘bad news’.

1. Recast the Task

It is more likely to be bad news when you need to tell an employee they are out of a job due to poor performance. It will often be less so when they already know their performance is not up to the required standard.

I have found that if I treat the task as trying to help an employee avoid failure, then I feel more positive about the experience and so will the employee.

2. Have the Conversation Early

As tempting as it might be, don’t put it off. Chances are the issue won’t resolve itself, as an employer you need to address the issue as soon as possible. The longer that the issue bubbles away, the harder it will be to tackle down the track. By having difficult conversations early, you can help prevent issues from escalating and spiralling out of control. Would you rather sit Samantha down today to discuss how she could improve her customer service skills, or have dissatisfied and angry customers leaving your business?

3. Use the DESC strategy 

This method for delivering bad news was the subject of an earlier article. It strikes a balance between motivating behavioural change and making the delivery of bad news easier for both the employer and employee.

4.Be organised

  • Write down your main points before you talk.
  • Arrange a specific time for the meeting
  • Have concrete evidence to back up your claims

5. Be clear and concise

  • Don’t beat around the bush
  • Make sure you get your point across clearly
  • Don’t ‘sandwich’ the bad news between good news- chances are the message will be lost.
  • At the end of the meeting, make sure they understand the unacceptable behaviour, how it should be changed and consequences if it is not. 

6. Keep it private

  • Hold the conversation in a private room
  • Don’t advertise the meeting to other employees

7. Be objective

  • Don’t make it about the individual
  • Focus the discussion on their undesirable behaviour

8. Be empathetic

  • Imagine how you would feel in that situation
  • Acknowledge their feelings in a compassionate way
  • Provide hope by encouraging action

9. Listen

  • Allow for comments at the end of your discussion
  • It’s important the employee feels they can have their say
  • But don’t let them explain the behaviour away

Free Download: Termination Letter Template

Need to let an employee go? Use our letter of termination template to ensure you are using the correct format. 

termination letter template