No matter how great a team you’ve assembled, the time will come when you will have to have a conversation with an employee that is certain to be uncomfortable. It may surround unacceptable employee behavior, job performance, having to deny an employee’s request, or a even an upcoming downsizing by the company.
There’s really no way to make such situations comfortable. However, there are ways to handle the conversation that help to diffuse the situation, and leave the employee feeling as good as possible about the circumstances. Here are some tips to help you minimize the discomfort as much as possible.
1. Don’t be vague. When it comes to delivering bad news, some managers measure their words so carefully that they wind up not getting the message across. Be sure that the intended message is clear, and be sure that it isn’t buried in fifteen minutes of unintelligible babble. Get to the point early in the conversation.
2. Balance the bad with some good. Every employee has good traits, but receiving performance or behavior counseling or being fired can leave a person feeling like a failure. During the conversation, be sure to remind the person of their valuable skills and personality traits. When asking for improvement in a certain area of the job, remind the employee of the skills and traits they possess that can help them to make a turnaround.
3. End on a note of action. There’s an old adage about never firing on a Friday, because when you fire a person on Friday, they are unable to take action toward finding a new job until Monday, leaving them feeling helpless about their own fate. For similar reasons, it is best to leave a difficult conversation with a plan of action for the employee. If you need performance to improve, for example, be certain they understand exactly what improvements need to be made, and that they have a roadmap to making these improvements.
As a manager, it is important to develop your “bad news” skills. Plan ahead for such conversations, writing down the points you want to make, and going over them in your head before you meet with the employee. Once you have a specific plan in mind as to which points you want to make, and you’ve ensured that your message is clear, balanced with good points, and specific on required improvement, you’ll find that these conversations, while never completely comfortable, are less daunting than you originally believed.