- Why is it so hard for so many managers to simply talk with their employees about less-than-expected performance?
- Why do so many managers become mean when they simply need to make employees aware their behaviors are taking them down the path towards disciplinary actions or possibly -- termination?
- Why do so many managers default to "attack mode" instead of "talk mode" to tell employees they are performing in unacceptable ways?
From my experience, the reasons vary. However, there are two very common reasons. The first reason is that managers tend to model "disciplinary" behaviors they've seen or experienced themselves. They model snarky, sneaky (i.e., passive-aggressive), or just plain mean behaviors in attacking, belittling, and demeaning the employees who have frustrated them. They equate letting employees know they're performing in unacceptable ways with slamming the employees. They take a sledgehammer approach instead of a highlighter approach to make the employees aware they're performance is not acceptable. They attack in a big way instead of teach with insight.
The second most common reason for the attack mode I see is: Fear. Fear of having a "difficult conversation" with an employee. The manager anticipates a potentially, emotion-filled interaction that may result in hostility, tears, yelling, or hurt feelings. So, to "gear up" for such an interaction, many managers put on their "attack gear." They get themselves worked up emotionally and mentally. They hold off meeting with employees until they have several examples of poor behavior so they can build a strong case against the employee. Their own frustration level increases because the employees "just continue to perform poorly." They attack with proof instead of teach with small, incremental examples along the way.
So what should you do when your employees do not perform as expected or in unacceptable ways? Tell them right away. Tell them immediately when you see them do something that is clearly unacceptable. If they're violating some policy, procedure or law, You obviously need to deal with that immediately. However, if your employees are underperforming or behaving in ways that will lead them astray, tell them. Clue them in. Talk with them regularly so they become aware, but more so, so they get comfortable with you regularly refocusing and guiding them. If they only hear from you when you've built a case against them, why shouldn't they feel blind-sided? Why shouldn't they get defensive and possibly become hostile or have hurt feelings? You set them up. Talk with them regularly. Don't attack them.
I've shared this idea before, but I'll share it again because I've seen it work with many of my clients. If you do nothing else, stop thinking of conversations with your employees about unacceptable performance as "difficult conversations." That term alone brings to mind the anxiety and negative emotions outlined above. Instead, think of conversations you need to have with your employees about their performance as "Necessary Conversations." They're necessary because you need to clue your employees in now. They're necessary because if they don't occur, your employees are likely to continue down an unacceptable path of behavior. They're necessary because it's part of your job to teach, inform, refocus, and guide your employees - not slam them. They're necessary because they'll help you talk with your employees instead of attack your employees.
Copyright MMXIII Liz Weber, CMC, CSP - Weber Business Services, LLC.