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Manager's Corner: Fear of Difficult Conversations

Manager's Corner
Fear of Difficult Conversations

It's been happening more and more. Clients are complaining about their managers' inappropriate behaviors, lack of management skills, and inability to take on greater responsibilities.
Yet, when I ask what they've done to discuss the problem areas with their managers, I'm told, "It won't do any good. I talked to them about this years ago and they never changed."
Why do so many of us fear having difficult conversations with members of our staffs? Why do we choose to not address poor or inappropriate performance? Are we afraid of the potential conflict? Are we afraid we might hurt someone's feelings? Are we afraid someone might cry?
Whatever our reasoning for not addressing poor performance, we need to remember just what our jobs - as managers - are. As a manager, our responsibility is to ensure the work gets done. And that it's done correctly.
I hate to sound cold now, but if a piece of equipment started to malfunction and kick out parts that were not acceptable, would we simply stand by and let it continue to spew defective parts? No. We'd shut down the unit, determine the cause of the malfunction, and then fix it. We'd also probably stand by the machine to monitor it as it restarts production to ensure the parts are being produced correctly again. We may even continue to interact with and tweak the machine until it was operating the way we knew it could and should. So why don't we do the same thing with people?
Our fear of potential conflict, hurt feelings, tears, or some other potential reaction holds us back. By not having the difficult conversations we're allowing poor performance to continue, less-than-acceptable products or services be produced, as well as probably decreased overall morale to exist and grow. And that's simply not right.
So how do you have difficult conversations: Be clear on what you will be addressing with your employees. You'll be addressing a fact: poor performance. Don't let yourself become consumed with the potential reactions you may or may not be confronted with. You never know, what you may find is that your employees are unaware of the performance issue. They may even appreciate the honest, fair, and calm manner in which you share your concerns with them. Your employees may appreciate that you are now asking them to work with you in developing a mutually agreeable plan of action to correct the issue. You never know, it has the potential to work. Yes, on the other hand you may have to deal with anger, hurt feelings, or tears, but that wasn't your intent in having this conversation. Your intent was to address performance -- and that's what you need to remind your employees of. You didn't mean to hurt feelings, you meant to have a conversation on performance. That clarification with an upset employee is often enough to help refocus the conversation on the true topic. Try it. It may just work. It has potential.

Liz Weber of Weber Business Services, LLC. WBS specializes in Strategic, Business, and Succession Planning, as well as employee and leadership training. Contact: or 717-597-8890.

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