It's been happening more and more. Clients are complaining about their managers' inappropriate behaviors, lack of management skills, and inability to take on greater responsibilities. Yet, when I ask if they have discussed the problem areas with their managers, they say, "It won't do any good. I talked to them about this years ago and they never changed."
Why do so many of us fear having difficult conversations with our managers and other members of our staffs? Why do we choose to not address poor or inappropriate performance? Are we afraid of the potential conflict? Are we afraid we might hurt someone's feelings? Are we afraid someone might cry?
Whatever your reasoning for not addressing poor performance, let me remind you that as the leader you are accountable to know what your manager’s job is (a manager’s responsibility is to ensure the work gets done) and that it's done correctly. I hate to sound cold now, but if a certain piece of equipment started to malfunction and churn out parts that were not up to standard, would you simply stand by and let it continue to spew defective parts? No. You would shut down the unit, determine the cause of the malfunction, and then fix it. It is conceivable that you would stand by the machine to monitor it as it restarts production to ensure the parts are being produced correctly again. You may even continue to interact with and tweak the machine until it operates the way you know it can and should. So why don't you do the same thing with your people?
Fear of potential conflict, hurt feelings, tears, or some other possible reaction holds you back. By not having those difficult conversations you are allowing poor performance to continue, less-than-acceptable products or services to be produced, as well as almost certainly decreasing the opportunity for overall morale to exist and grow. And that's simply not right.
HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS:
Be crystal clear about the subject of your conversation with your employees.
You will be addressing a fact: poor performance.
Don't let yourself become consumed with the potential reactions you may or may not be confronted with.
Your employees may appreciate that you are now asking them to work with you in developing a mutually agreeable plan of action to correct the issue.
To deal with anger, hurt feelings, or tears...
Remember your intent in having this conversation (to address performance) and remind your employees. “I did not mean to hurt your feelings. I meant to have a conversation on performance.”
That simple clarification, shared with an upset employee, is often enough to help refocus the conversation back to the true topic. Try it. You have nothing to fear…and it may just work. It has potential.