A common phone call I receive from my clients is “Leigh, my team member’s been stuffing up for a while. I’ve tried so many things, but I just don’t know what else to do?”
My reply is always the same – it’s time for a chat with their employee. It might feel tough for both sides, but it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and soon!

Putting Off ‘the chat’

For many of us, having the ‘tough chat’ is not something we’re keen to do, and spend many nights leading up to it, tossing and turning, losing a lot of sleep. A lot of business owners sit on it for too long, letting it impact their daily lives.

At the same time, this delay can often impact the rest of their team as they have an increase at their own level of frustration at you and the employee, becomingly increasingly annoyed that the behaviour is not being dealt with.

First up, these reactions are normal! We often view a difficult conversation as having so many pieces to the puzzle that it instantly overwhelms us, and so we just sweep it under the carpet. However, it’s not going to go away, and the sooner we can find the courage to take on this conversation the better. The key is to know how to take on the conversation.

Before the conversation

There are key things you can do in advance to lessen how tough the conversation is going to feel

• Prepare: Stop and ask yourself what specifically do you want to give them feedback on? What evidence do you actually have?

Often these answers provide clarity on exactly what’s going on, and filter out what’s not relevant to the conversation.

One team manager discovered in their preparation that their issues with their team member had been building up for so long that, suddenly, it had become quite hard to articulate exactly what they wanted to say.

By asking these questions, this manager could identify the one key issue that was the catalyst for everything else – not turning up on time each day. This one piece of feedback was the key part of the tough conversation, but kept it focused and made it identifiable and attainable for the team member receiving the feedback.

• Plan to make it safe: Often when something has been on your mind, and it’s been building up for a long time, we may suddenly think, “right, let’s do this!” You gain a burst of courage, and decide to head straight into the conversation.

Pause in this moment and take the time to consider if it is safe for both you and the person receiving the feedback. Are there others around that may listen to this conversation? If so, find a quiet place that provides a respectful environment where you can actually hear each other, and is private.
Pause to take the time to look at what’s been happening recently for them and you? Check in with your employee to see where they might like to meet and let them know that you would like to have a chat with them.

Pausing and catching your breath is key to lessening the toughness to any conversation. It is also really important for managers to ensure they are acting fairly and reasonably in all dealings with their staff. I’ve seen managers let behaviours go for some employees and yet not address it with others – fairness and consistency are the key here.

Having the Chat

Once you’re in the chat, there’s a few key things to actively demonstrate to keep it on track in a respectful way that empowers both you and your employee.

• Be specific and simple: Say clearly and as simply as possibly exactly what you see as the issue. Keeping to the facts and stating it in just a couple of statements is all you need, and often removes the added emotion and fluff that we often want to add. But remember, we’re adults too, and by challenging ourselves to keep it specific and simple, we keep away from any child-like behaviour.

• Listen: Sounds like an obvious one, but often when we want to give tough feedback, we expect the person to receive it, nod in acknowledgement and walk away and apply it. Quite simply – that’s not fair. This is possibly the first time they’ve heard of this feedback, so get ready to listen their response, and really listen to their response. What you may find in this are some aspects to your own conclusions that you hadn’t considered. You might also receive some feedback that is challenging for you, so remember to check your own emotions and stay calm.

One client actively listened to their employee, and what they discovered were issues at home that they were completely unaware of. The result was a complete change in their own assumptions. Together, they re-worked a better solution to reduce the issue of lateness, allowing the employee to start and finish one hour later.

• Confirm what’s next: Never leave the chat hanging. Always come to a conclusion on what’s going to happen next, and when you’re planning to check in about any agreed change. This keeps both sides accountable and also helps to keep the trust between both of you. One conversation doesn’t create change in behaviour – it takes a series of conversations.

Often, heading into a tough chat can increase the nerves. So if you need some extra help, grab your phone and start with an easy chat with us at Tradie HR to settle the nerves, and help you come up with a successful plan on how to tackle the conversation.

This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.