We all have participated in difficult conversations whether in our personal lives or our business lives. Many of us have been on the receiving end and some have had the task to deliver a difficult message. No matter which side you are on, these types of conversations can be filled with anxiety and some fear. For the person delivering the message, it could create such negative anticipation that you fail to communicate effectively what you want the person to hear. On the other hand if you are the person receiving the message, angst and negative anticipation may lead to a failure to reflect realistically about you and your performance.

If you are in a management role and have to deliver negative feedback to someone who works for you, here are a couple of tips to consider before moving forward.

  1. Develop the outcomes you are trying to achieve before you begin the conversation. Focus on solutions.
  2. Document all performance related conversations and share them with your employee.
  3. Try to have a conversation rather than a scripted event.
  4. Ask the employee to verbally review his/her performance before you give your own observations. If the person is missing the mark, ask additional questions to get the individual to focus on behaviors and outcomes.
  5. Always focus on the employee’s behaviors and outcomes and never make any personal attacks. Don’t allege intent; have a conversation so you can understand the other person’s point of view.
  6. In general listen more and talk less. Ground rules could include each person repeating back what they heard before making their own comments. This encourages active listening.
  7. Be prepared with specific past performance issues should the employee forget to remember situations. Provide focus assistance if the person is straying from the appropriate subject matter.
  8. Remind the employee of expectations at the time of an assignment and the measurements for success along with the actual results. This could include previous conversations in which their performance was called into question and what the results were from those conversations.
  9. Be open minded yourself to another person’s observations and perspectives
  10. In most cases if you are giving constructive feedback on a regular basis, difficult conversations are simply a continuation of the process and will not and should not be a surprise to the employee.

Relationships matter and while you don’t need to be best friends with people who work for you, you should always treat them respectfully and do everything you can to help them succeed. Part of your responsibility being a manager means holding people accountable, which can in turn lead to difficult conversations. As a manager, work on being honest and considerate, while providing encouragement for the individual to improve.

Dan Portes
Management Resource Group, Ltd.

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