As a leader, you are often called on to have a difficult conversation with a member of your team. Sometimes you have to provide a performance review, or you have to point out ways that they are not doing their part. You may need to ask them to change a behavior, or show a greater commitment to the team or the organization’s goals, standards, and brand.
Many leaders are uncomfortable having these kinds of talks, so they sugarcoat their feedback or shy away from such engagement. But that doesn’t help the employee know what is expected of them or where they can make improvements to enjoy a more successful career. Here are four tips that can help any leader become a better communicator in this kind of sensitive situation.
1. Connect Behavior to Outcome
Nobody changes a behavior or works toward a goal without being personally motivated. Let the person know what’s in it for them in terms of making their work life go smoother. How will acting on the conversation enhance their career? Let them know you have their best interest in mind. Then prove it by explaining why what you are requesting of them is going to be good for them on a personal, individual level.
2. Context is Essential
Avoid vagueness and instead be crystal clear. Describe the specific situation that needs to be addressed, and exactly what your expectations are. Have dates, times, and actions written down so you can share them as needed. The better the employee grasps the context and situation, the more equipped they’ll be to act on your feedback.
3. Identify Specific Actions
Don’t delve into emotions or what you think is in a person’s mind. Stick to quantifiable and observable behaviors and outcomes. Opinions or personal judgments can trigger defensiveness and arguments. But a discussion based on facts can lead to shared agreement regarding what’s the matter, and a collaborative plan to make beneficial changes that can be measured in the future. Write out the next steps to be taken, to avoid confusion or miscommunication.
4. Give Frequent Feedback
Make it your leadership policy to constantly and consistently provide clear, actionable feedback to employees. As discussed above, the employee needs to clearly understand the context. The sooner you communicate the more they’ll see what you mean, and the more effective and less awkward your conversation will be.
Leaders usually have the most difficulty giving critical feedback for a team member who is not performing as expected. But you can also use these same tips to provide positive feedback and give praise.
Sarah’s Accelerator Questions
Before you have this kind of conversation, prepare yourself by asking these key questions:
- What is the main point I want to get across? Having a key topic will help keep the conversation on track.
- How can I help the employee? Figure out what their challenges are, and what resources you can provide to help them overcome those.
- When will you follow up? Always follow-up a short time later, to measure progress and ensure that the employee feels support and encouragement.
Thinking about each of these questions beforehand will give you a deeper understanding of where the conversation is going, and why it’s important to have it. That will help remove the awkwardness and make it easier.