How to Have Tough Conversations with Employees

Disciplining employees doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Not every leader enjoys having those tough conversations with their team. In this blog, we’ll weigh in with our best advice on reprimanding employees. 

Don’t reprimand an employee in front of others:

The best way to create conflict or lose an employee’s trust is to call attention to their mistakes in a public setting. If it’s urgent that the mistake be fixed, then set aside time right away and call them to your office to discuss the error or issue at hand. Start by letting them know that you are not “reprimanding” them, but you want to draw their attention to the issue so it can be fixed. If it’s a serious infraction, make sure you have HR in the meeting with you and the employee so that conversations and resolutions are documented.

Help the employee problem-solve:

Sometimes, it helps to guide an employee in a way that doesn’t make them feel that you are micro-managing them. When discussing a mistake or error, try to come at it from a perspective of how you may have handled the situation yourself. Ask the employee if there could have been a different way of tackling the project, problem, or mistake. Give them some tools to tackle problem-solving for any future issues.

Build trust, not walls: 

Building trust and cultivating connections are activities you should practice daily. This will help you gain influence in your organization and develop mutual trust and understanding with employees. When a tough conversation arises, it will be easier because your colleagues will be less likely to assume negative intent. One effective way to build trust is by exercising emotional intelligence and projecting warmth and competence. This combination signals that you have good intentions and the skills to act on them, which can help you navigate challenging conversations with your team.

The conversation sandwich: 

This is something used in social work settings and among organizational development all the time. You can ease the blow of a difficult conversation by breaking it up into three parts—the bread, the meat and lettuce, and the top bread. Start by talking about what they do well (the first layer). Slowly move into what happened and how it can be resolved for the future (the meat layer). Then, end with another compliment on their skills (the top piece of bread). By recognizing these three layers and shifting the discussion, you can have a more productive, positive, and honest conversation.

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