How to have a tough conversation with an employee

It isn’t always easy to be a retail manager (or any manager) and I’ve always taken the job seriously. My role as a manager is much more then a position description. In the role of manager you need to be able to put on many hats for many different types of people. You need to be a consoling ear to a distraught customer, a mentor to an aspiring team member and a tough teacher to a developing team member. Some conversations are easier then others and they need to be treated as such. When having a tough one-on-one with a staff member, its important to follow the below steps to ensure that the conversation is delivered correctly.

Keep perspective

When having a serious conversation with a team member I always like to put things back into perspective. What are they doing wrong and how does it affect the success of the business? How does it affect the team around them? Why could they be acting that way? Are they having issues at home?

Also, keep in mind what they might be thinking heading into the same meeting. You don’t want to fill them full of fear beforehand or they might not even show up. You want them to know it’s a serious conversation (if it is), let them prepare themselves for it and to let them know that at the end of the day it’s a two-way conversation and they will have time to have their say.

Make a list of the facts and information

Before you sit down with the team member, get all of your facts and information straight. If you need to have a record of conversation or to deliver a warning, have the relevant documents set up and ready so the attention is completely on the situation at hand. If these documents are needed then the situation is more then likely a serious one and you don’t want to detract from the seriousness of the meeting by stopping and starting to fill out paper work.

Figure out the tone and cadence that you want to deliver in the conversation

Now that you have all of the information, sit and think about what you would like to happen in this conversation. Think about how you need to address the meeting and the team member. The tone of your voice can set the scene for the seriousness of the issue. For instance if it’s a follow up of a previous issue and its still not being resolved then keep it very professional, information based and try to talk in a deeper tone. If it’s a serious issue but it’s the first time, keep this in mind and aim to make it more of a fact-finding meeting. Keep your questions short and sharp and keep your voice at a deep registry when delivering information and aim for a slightly higher register when asking questions.

Set the scene for the meeting

Some situations call for different setting and tones. Do you need to have the conversation privately? Sometimes a café may seem like a great idea but if you need to have a serious conversation, a waitress interrupting every ten minutes (just doing her job of course) may not be the right place to set the meeting.

The back storeroom can be okay but be aware of the set up. Don’t put them in a situation where they feel trapped or cramped and remember to watch your body language. If you are naturally tall, try not to stand or sit above them, as they can feel threatened.

Be open-minded about the outcome of the meeting

One of the most important things to remember is to be open-minded about the outcome. Of course you need to have an idea of how you want the meeting to go but keep in mind that it doesn’t always end that way. Plenty of meetings have gone in the complete opposite direction of what was planned and when dealing with people, you can never quite know how anything will end.

People management isn’t easy. Tough one-on-one conversations can be the worst or best part of your job. If you are prepared and genuinely care about your team member and their development then the meeting will be delivered in the manner that they deserve. The hardest conversations can end up turning around a struggling employee, you’ve just got to know how to deliver it.


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