The Secret to Hard Conversations With Staff

Frequent, structured talks keep communication lines open and make expectations clear.

learn more about Jeff Oddo

By Jeff Oddo

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's difficult to have conversations about sensitive subjects with employees. Whether you're discussing a difference in values, an upsetting behavior pattern, or a work quality issue, it's easy to get sidetracked by emotions or, worse, to put it off until a "better time." I've found the policy of "frequency over intensity" to work well – keeping the lines of communication open in regard to job performance so that issues don't build up to the point of explosion.

Get in the right mindset: Take a few minutes to get centered. Understand what you want to accomplish. This helps you gain perspective, and assists in viewing the confrontation as a positive conversation (rather than an attack) with the end goal of helping your employee find happiness in his or her career.

Let the employee talk: Give this person the time to explain his or herself. Consider, for example, an employee that is always late to work. Maybe there's a medical issue or a schedule adjustment than can be made. Make your best attempt to understand the underlying issue instead of disciplining right off the bat. This can help determine the impact on the rest of the organization.

Be flexible: If you go into the meeting with a motive, your employee may not feel comfortable being open with you. Try and solve a problem rather than doling out punishment. If you approach the conversation with the mindset that you sincerely care about the person, it changes everything.

Make expectations clear: Only when employees understand what's needed can they know how to succeed – or when they are falling short. Your employees should be able to clearly articulate what your expectations, goals and processes are. Don't be afraid to ask staffers if they understand and to repeat the goals in their own words if you think they are unsure.

Related: Difficult Conversations: What Not to Say

Stay focused: By keeping the conversation focused, you're able to avoid going off on tangents – where there are problems, there will always be emotions. Make your points direct but thoughtful and keep the discussion on track. Take the emotion out of it, and make the conversation analytical.

Document the discussion: At City Wide, we have a program called People Analyzer – we evaluate employees on all of our nine company values, vital behaviors for each position, and the employee commitment statement. We rate them either red or green – green means the employee shares the vision of the company while red indicates a deviation from the policies, and anything that has a red mark is required to have three specific examples of why the supervisor gave the person a red mark. The employee is then given 7-30 days to evaluate the situation and demonstrate the change of behaviors to which we discussed and agreed.

Related: Reasons You Should Have Difficult Conversations

Follow up: After establishing areas of improvement, follow up with the employee to share positive and constructive feedback on their implemented performance changes.

Difficult conversations are just that – difficult. But clear communication between employer and employee creates clear guidelines that can, in time, make these hard talks a little easier.

Jeff Oddo

Jeff Oddo is an author, father, public speaker, and the CEO and President of the Kansas City-based City Wide Maintenance.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.


6 Ways to Wring All the Value from Your Earned Media Coverage

Press coverage can help your brand gain visibility and increase credibility — but not if no one sees it. What can you do to get more value from the media placements you've worked so hard to earn?

Business News

Out With the Kibble and In With the Steak. The World's Richest Dog Has a Net Worth of $400 Million – And a New Netflix Docuseries Too

'Gunther's Millions' is set to unpack the pooch's mysterious fortune and what those around him have done with his inheritance.


Invest in Yourself: 10 Things Every Working Woman Should Do This Year

When striving for success, it is easy to forget about your mental and physical health. But without health, you cannot fully succeed. Follow these ten lifestyle strategies for success in your personal and professional life.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.