Tough Conversations

Leading people involves a lot of conversations. Most of them are wonderful, but some are incredibly hard.

At the extreme end, no one likes firing people, but a manager simply won’t avoid that hard conversation at some point in their career.

However, the tough conversations that don’t involve employee termination are often entirely avoided… even when they’re the best way to avoid that ultimate action! More importantly, tough conversations can be some of the most rewarding and impactful you’ll have. It’s the ability to have tough conversations that helps separate a manager from a leader.

What sort of conversations are we talking about? Perhaps it’s with a teammate who’s always 5 minutes late. Maybe talking with employee who’s performance isn’t meeting the standard. Some of the toughest conversations are with and about abrasive personalities – folks who get all the results, but are impossible to work with.

Often, tough conversations aren’t even about bad performance. It could simply be talking with your star employee about their future path – knowing it might lead her to take that next step and leave your team.

But for this post, we’re going to stick to those “performance” conversations. I feel strongly that they don’t happen often enough! Let’s be clear, folks don’t deserve to be chewed out every day. Instead, folks deserve to get timely and honest feedback on how and what they’re doing!

Too often, positive feedback is heaped on, while negative feedback is reserved and held back. Finally, the situation boils over and a big conflict is put on the menu.

Like sharply veering a car, the dramatic change in direction is disorienting and worrisome for everyone.

A better option!

Instead, leaders should seek to constantly review and improve their team. Feedback should be given in a timely and kind way… but also with complete candor. Remember, there’s a difference between acting kind and being kind! True kindness involves eliminating the ambiguity that far too many employees feel: “Am I really doing a good job?”, “Should I be worried about my job?

Addressing issues quickly and with complete candor. Some ups and downs, but no surprises!

In my experience, people enjoy receiving honest feedback and become far better for it! Employees begin to correct bad behavior and work on their performance. It shouldn’t be a surprise. 99.9% of folks want to do a good job, they just need to know what is expected of them.

My favorite example is the “always tardy” teammate. One morning, traffic and daycare conspired to make him 15 minutes late in the morning. But, to his surprise, no one said anything! The following week, when daycare drop off again took longer than expected, he arrived late and… no one said anything! Now this fellow had been stressing every morning for months. Getting the kids ready for school and coordinating bus schedules was making his morning commute rather tight, but apparently it wasn’t a big deal to show up 15 minutes late! What a dramatic difference those 15 minutes would make in his morning! So, assuming it was okay (after all, no one had ever said anything), he began arriving late most mornings. He stayed later in the afternoon to get his work done and he relieved his early morning stress. Unfortunately, he was also happily ignorant of his bosses building frustrations.

On the other side of things, his manager saw the first tardy arrival, but didn’t make much of it. On the second occurrence, he meant to ask him if everything was okay in the morning, but got busy with meetings and memos throughout the day. Now, weeks later, this manager silently fumes each morning as his tardy employee arrives smiling. Well… his annual performance review is coming up next month, so he’ll just discuss it with him then!!

What a silly problem we have on our hands – and only because of a lack of communication. There are so many solutions! Perhaps moving the employee’s scheduled start time later is acceptable for the position? If the start time can’t be moved, at least the employee will understand the frustration he’s causing his team and adjust his schedule accordingly. But, nothing will happen without having the conversation! Rather, something might happen, but it is bound to catch the employee entirely by surprise and cause further frustration between both sides!


Up and out!

Sometimes having tough conversations will lead to the same eventual outcome. An employee just might not be the right fit for a position or company. Setting clear expectations through clarity and conversation is necessary, but it doesn’t always work out! In these cases, you’ll expedite the situation and help the teammate grow on the way. Further, should you end up separating with the employee, you’ll do so with the good conscience.

The goal.

More often, I’ve had outcomes like the graph above. Receiving direct feedback and coaching is incredible. People correct their poor behaviors and reinforce the great ones! You’ve seen this outcome without realizing it. Some mediocre employee leaves your company (or is terminated) only to become an all-star somewhere else. You’ve probably thought “wow… that place must have low standards” or “huh, they were really holding back“.

More likely though, they finally started to receive the coaching and conversations they needed to become the best version of themselves. Wouldn’t you like to be the leader that makes others better? Start by having those tough conversations.

People are projects – embrace it!


1 Comment

  1. Stacey Lambarena

    September 6, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    This makes my day!!!
    I will look forward to more of these posts weekly! (Or daily 😁)
    Thanks for being a great leader!!!

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