Don’t wait too long for that difficult conversation

A good telling off

Whenever you’re concerned about someone’s performance in your team, you know that sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with it; and the sooner the better.

It could be about being late for work or taking an ever-extending lunch break. It could be more serious and nudging close to a disciplinary type of offence. Whatever it is, you know that you really must have a conversation about the issue.

(It could even be that you need a difficult conversation with your own boss, perhaps he or she is not getting the best out of you because of the way you are managed.)

And you know that if you delay this conversation, things will only deteriorate. For example, the guilty party may just chip away at your credibility as leader, and before you know it, set a precedent for unacceptably poor behaviour across the team.

So, what are you to do about this difficult conversation?  First of all, be prepared.

There’s a 5 step process for this type of conversation.

Once you have clearly identified the message you wish to give, focusing on the unacceptable behaviour and its consequences, you can prepare for the conversation process itself.  It begins with delivering that message, for example:

“I’ve been noticing you coming in late quite often in the last few weeks, and others in the team are noticing it too. I sense it is affecting morale and we need to put this right.”

After saying this, you take the 5 steps below.

Inquiry:  This is the first, very important step which takes the heat and defensiveness out of the conversation, and as manager, YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED TO LISTEN.  You can ask how they feel about your message, what’s their take, their view on the situation, and avoid interrupting them.

Acknowledgement:  This demonstrates that you DID listen in step 1.  It’s the opportunity to reflect what they said, paraphrase if needed, and confirm your understanding of their perspective.  There is an important distinction to recognise here; you don’t have to agree with what has been said, you are simply acknowledging that you understand.

Advocacy:  Now is your opportunity to share your perspective and to re-state what is and what is not acceptable.  You may have to refer to their employment contract, your own written agreement, perhaps the statement of the team’s shared values.  Whatever your point of reference, this is the step for making clear your position as leader.  It may have been tempting to go straight here to step 3 and just lay down the law.  However, using steps 1 and 2 will most likely get you into a more adult to adult conversation.

Problem solving:  Once you have both made clear your position and have been understood, it’s time to work out together how this matter will be solved.  The onus is on the employee to take responsibility for the fix that is needed, but as leader you can provide support and encouragement, as well as some ideas of your own.

Agreeing on action: Your conversation should conclude with some clear action steps, you may want to test the actions against SMART criteria, and you (as leader) should also be clear on any support which you need to provide.

So there you have it – Inquiry, Acknowledgement, Advocacy, Problem solving, Agreeing on action – the 5 steps for holding a difficult conversation.

But first ……. prepare!

My next workshop, Coaching Others to Be Their Best, provides the opportunity to learn and practice some key skills of coaching, this 5 step model being one of those skills. You can meet other like-minded professionals too, share experience, and learn from each other in a safe and fun environment.

Please join me at The Watershed in Bristol on 24th March, 9am to 1pm.

Check out the hash tag #donttelljustcoach for short tips on Twitter, and then book here or directly from my website events page.