Where there are people there are communication issues. Most of these challenges can be small but they can get big. Employees can sometimes be labelled by management as underperformers, troublemakers, drama queens and kings, and more. Often what really makes things difficult is talking to employees about these situations.

Many owners and managers aren’t even raising these concerns at all! Meanwhile, the business is losing money, productivity is compromised and their teams feel dragged down. Instead of addressing these problems, managers often resort to sugar-coating, sidestepping and wishful thinking.

For example, an employee can start off well but over the years their performance can bottom out. You might be thinking, “Maybe sending them on a holiday will make them feel better.” In reality, however, you know deep down that the years of slogging away with poor performance isn’t going to simply correct itself after a little vacation. A conversation needs to happen and the sooner you can get it done, the less difficult the employee is going to be.

Consider the following tips to help you get started:

1. Authenticity helps… a lot!

Authenticity is often confused with honesty but there is a clear distinction between the two. The phrase, “being fair dinkum”, captures it best. If there is one thing that a lot of problem employees have, it’s a knack for spotting fakeness.

This means that whatever you have to say needs to come from someone who speaks from the point of view of one human being to another.

2. Don’t confuse honesty with oversensitivity.

When speaking honestly, you have to tell the truth. If someone isn’t performing up to standard, you have to tell it as it is. Too much sugar-coating can dilute the message. The truth is the truth.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be as blunt about it as possible but you have to let the truth speaks for itself. A straightforward message leaves no room for misinterpretation. Oversensitivity and using too many euphemisms only encourages confusion and misunderstandings.

3. Ditch the win-lose mindset.

Treating these conversations as a combat situation is precisely why managers and owners end up escalating the conversation into a bull-headed confrontation. You shouldn’t hold it against a problem employee if they react defensively when they receive negative feedback.

Try to refrain from making it worse by further triggering those defense mechanisms in using aggressive tones and body language. The best solution is always a win-win outcome, benefiting both parties. Would you like no hard feelings? Don’t stir employees up with a confrontational win-lose approach!

4. Do your research and have it all on hand.

Few things can trigger a defensive attitude as much as false claims and false accusations. When you are presenting charges or complaints about an employee, do thorough research.

Gather plenty of evidence and always use solid key performance indicators that leave little room for dispute. Always have documentation such as the employee’s job description and copies of company policies to consult to help them understand the extent of their infringement.

If there are lots of facts to lay out, take time to strategise how to present them too!

5. Help the employee help themselves.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, you can’t help people who aren’t willing to help themselves. Many poorly performing employees would gladly take their own measures to improve their problems.

Sometimes a particular situation for an employee can warrant some days off but it is just as likely that they will commit to any solution you recommend. Either way, things could work out better if the employee is an active and willing part of the solution.

6. Don’t hesitate ask for a little support.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should have another person in the room (although that can work too), but you shouldn’t feel required to handle a problem employee all by yourself throughout the process. Ask for help from fellow managers or consult someone who has had to handle a similar situation in the past.

7. Don’t hesitate to call for a little time out.

If it feels as though a situation with an employee is getting overly heated, don’t panic. Feel free to call for a timeout. Give them time to breath and time to process the information and the situation as a whole. In a way, you have already done your part in delivering the message. If it doesn’t seem that way, make a note to have another meeting with the employee once they’ve composed themselves. Anything that would only result in needless commotion and more time-wasting should be avoided.

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