This one is for you – managers, co-workers, or anyone who has been meaning to have a talk that you are absolutely dreading.  Let’s break down the apprehension and make this thing happen.

The topic of “the talk” could be about anything: an employee’s attendance issues, poor performance, or even – sigh – hygiene.  What’s important though is that you know that you need to have the talk, other people are telling you that you need to have the talk, and the person whose behavior is causing all the problems is probably waiting quietly, hoping that you won’t have the talk.  But they know it’s coming too, so let’s do the right thing and clear the air.

Why and How

Why do you need to have the talk? Because something is bothering you – and that is feedback that things could be better.  Making things better = good.  Enough said.

Why does the other person need to have the talk?  So they get the feedback and can make a choice about whether they should improve the situation. If you or others have concerns about their behavior or performance, it’s the right thing to do.

I’ll take that one step further:

It is the NICE, COURTEOUS, COMPASSIONATE thing to do.  And your mother agrees with me. Just think back to junior high school and all the rumors and whispers that ran up and down the halls.  No one likes being talked about behind their back.

Which brings us to the how. If this is an employment-related talk, make sure to consult your company policies related to performance management, coaching and discipline in addition to the thoughts below:

1) Do it in private. You are doing this in service of the relationship and for your mutual benefit. Berating or correcting another person in public does not help your cause.

2) Be clear about your concerns and expectations. What behavior are you expecting and how are they falling short – specifically.

3) Ask for their feedback. Had they been unclear about these expectations? Is there a resource, tool, or support that they will need to be successful going forward? What actions will they commit to doing to avoid this issue in the future?

4) Document it. This means write it down and have both of you sign off that you acknowledge it. There is a perception that “write-ups” are “bad.”  I disagree. “Agreements” are “good” and help us avoid miscommunication and failed expectations in the future.

There is no guarantee that the person you are addressing will immediately appreciate your thoughtfulness for bringing up your concerns. However, if you adopt a perspective that what you are doing is helpful and not punitive, you will create a more constructive mood.  This should lead to less anxiety in the conversation and more collaboration and agreement about the resolution.

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