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Having Tough Conversations

Being a leader isn’t always fun and exciting. There will be those times where you have to have serious conversations to address concerns that are impacting the work environment. In my last blog I talked about focusing on the positive, while you should always continue to do this, you also need to address any problems that may arise right away.

This area has been a struggle of mine. I hate feeling like the bad guy or the bearer of bad news but when it comes down to it is something that has to be done. The first few times I had to sit down and have a serious conversation I felt that I was not consistent with every person I spoke with. I was worried about what kind of message that would send to my team so what I did was researched some easy ways to have the tough conversations. This way I could keep it simple and consistent with everyone I spoke with.

The tool that I found most useful was from About.com written by Susan M. Heathfeld:

Steps to Provide Feedback in a Difficult Conversation

  • Seek permission to provide the feedback. Even if you are the employee’s boss, start by stating you have some feedback you’d like to share. Ask if it’s a good time or if the employee would prefer to select another time and place. (Within reason, of course.)
  • Use a soft entry. Don’t dive right into the feedback – give the person a chance to brace for potentially embarrassing feedback. Tell the employee that you need to provide feedback that is difficult to share. If you’re uncomfortable with your role in the conversation, you might say that, too. Most people are as uncomfortable providing feedback about an individual’s personal dress or habits, as the person receiving the feedback.
  • Often, you are in the feedback role because other employees have complained to you about the habit, behavior, or dress. Do not give in to the temptation to amplify the feedback, or excuse your responsibility for the feedback, by stating that a number of coworkers have complained. This heightens the embarrassment and harms the recovery of the person receiving feedback.
  • The best feedback is straightforward and simple. Don’t beat around the bush. I am talking with you because this is an issue that you need to address for success in this organization.
  • Tell the person the impact that changing his or her behavior will have from a positive perspective. Tell the employee how choosing to do nothing will affect their career and job.
  • Reach agreement about what the individual will do to change their behavior. Set a due date – tomorrow, in some cases. Set a time frame to review progress in others.
  • Follow-up. The fact that the problem exists means that backsliding is possible; further clarification may also be necessary. Then, more feedback and possibly, disciplinary action are possible next steps.


I hope you find this information helpful. As for me, I am going to continue perfecting this process and hope to improve on my communication skills with my team.

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