Tough talk: Tips for having difficult conversations with team members

By September 20, 2016 September 19th, 2019 insights
quarterly conversations


Companies are made up of people. And sometimes people don’t get along. Sometimes people are inconsiderate or forgetful. Sometimes people lack motivation and stop caring whether they produce good work. And all of that has the potential to hurt your business.

Few executives enjoy sitting an employee down to have the “we need to talk” talk. But sooner or later, it becomes unavoidable. How can you have that difficult conversation in a way that promotes positive results?

Start with open and honest

Ugh. Being “open and honest” is among the biggest clichés in the business lexicon. But there’s a reason for that: It’s a must. And it’s something leaders should communicate well before they sit someone down for a tough talk.

If you see a team member who is underperforming, disruptive or unethical, and you don’t say anything about it, you’re doing the company a disservice. The same goes for anyone else in your company. Let your people know that identifying and addressing counterproductive behavior (openly and honestly) benefits everyone – and encourage this practice whenever possible. The more you exercise it in your culture, the easier difficult conversations become.

Show respect

The purpose of “we need to talk” conversations should be to call out poor behavior or poor performance, not to belittle the person in question – or to position you as judge, jury and executioner. That is, unless you want people to get defensive.

Before you sit down to talk, make an effort to set aside your personal feelings for a team member so that you can offer constructive, objective feedback. Focus on behaviors or attitudes that need changed and explain how you will help the person excel and succeed.

Serve in success

If you aren’t serving your people by giving them the tools and support necessary to be great, how can you hold them accountable for greatness? It’s simple: You can’t.

If you’re having issues with a team member, think about what role you can play in turning it around. Can you look into solutions to streamline certain processes? Can you provide tools or resources to help the person address problem areas, such as organization or communication skills? Explain your proposed role during your meeting, which shows the person that you are investing in his or her success, as well.

Circle back

Having a meeting is one thing, but if you really want to change someone for the better, one tough conversation isn’t the solution. It’s part of an ongoing message that you’ll need to reinforce over time.

After your initial sit-down, initiate a comprehensive action plan for the team member in question. The plan should include regular follow-up meetings that reinforce your original message, outline individual and team goals and track the person’s improvement in key areas – keeping you both accountable to progress.

How can you salvage a team member or relationship that’s spiraling downward? Nobody bats 1.000 – sometimes hires just don’t work out – but you can take your best shot at pointing things in the right direction. Remember: If you aren’t holding your people accountable to greatness, you aren’t doing them any favors.

CultureShoc can help you turn tough conversations into changes for the better. To find out more, contact us at (844) 336-SHOC.