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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 9 months ago

Difficult conversations with employees

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How to move those talks to a productive end.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

No one likes to have them. But difficult conversations are a part of doing business — especially when you're a manager or business owner.

“The attitude that you go into that conversation with and the approach you bring are going to almost always determine whether you get a positive outcome,” says Marty Petty, founder and CEO of the MPetty Group, an organizational consulting firm in St. Petersburg.

When an employee frequently arrives late or doesn't perform at the level they should, you should address the problem in a timely manner. But a knee-jerk reaction won't be as effective as being properly prepared for the conversation.

“You have to plan what you're going to talk to them about,” says Patricia Mathews, principal consultant at Sarasota-based Workplace Experts. “You have to identify what the behavior is that's disruptive or not acceptable.”

Base the conversation on facts and observable behaviors, adds Paul Cortissoz, cofounder and partner at HR Soul Consulting in Tampa. “It's not just about feedback on what they have to change, but also the impact [the behavior] has on them, the team and the organization,” says Cortissoz. “It's about helping them understand that there is an impact.”

Giving the employee a clear objective — you need to arrive on time every day, you need to boost sales by 10% — leads to a better chance of success.

“Most of the time giving corrective feedback is so frightening because people view it as a first step to firing them,” says Mathews. “Well, it shouldn't be. You want to view it as, 'I want to help this person do better,' because that's your role as a manager. It's not to do their job for them but to help them be a better employee.”

If the employee gets angry or upset during the conversation, give them time to calm down. Then ask open-ended questions that help the employee explain why they're feeling the way they are. “Every time you can ask for clarity it's a way to keep the conversation from getting overemotional and move it toward some kind of productive end,” says Petty.

Finish the conversation with a plan to check in again. “If there's no follow-up, the employee will fall back into the behavior,” says Mathews. “The follow-up process shows your commitment to helping them improve. You're not just dumping it on them and walking away.”

The follow-up is also a great time to accentuate the positive. “Find those times when they're actually doing it right,” says Cortissoz. “A great way to get someone to change is by reinforcing what you want to see versus what you don't want to see.”

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