Few people enjoy having difficult conversations of any type. For leaders reviewing performance of a team member that is performing sub par, this conversation can be daunting. It seems all you will be saying is something negative and who wants to have a conversation like that?

Compound this with believing the other person will be unhappy, get defensive and maybe even hostile and no one would want to face this conversation.

I can’t take away the discomfort of having these conversations. They are never easy. However I can offer ideas that will make them as easy as possible.

1. Schedule a time for the conversation.

Schedule a time to speak to the team member, don’t simply catch them in the hall and pull them into your office. When scheduling make sure you have sufficient time to speak with them and allow them to respond and ask questions. While you may want to get it over and done with quickly something this important needs to be given sufficient time.

2. When scheduling let them know why this is important.

It’s imperative that you share with them the importance of this meeting, and that it’s not a pre-termination meeting or leave them with the impression they should be looking for another job. Let them know that your role is to coach, mentor and develop them so they can be successful. The discussion you want to have is about areas of development and improvement and you are taking this seriously and want them to as well.

3. Plan and prepare for the meeting.

Take 10 – 15 minutes and write down what you want to discuss. What are your key talking points and what is the message you want to deliver? It will help you deliver the message you want, and keep your emotions in check. Right before the meeting take a few minutes to review your notes and center yourself. Focus on the outcome you want.

4. Be explicit about what you want different and offer ideas.

Too often leaders go into these conversations talking about what was wrong, without being specific or offering examples of what they want to be different. If the conversation is about a task or project that went awry, explain what wasn’t done properly. Give them examples of what/how you wanted it handled.

When the conversation is about attitude, accountability or something similar, it’s still important to give examples. Saying something such as ‘you aren’t accountable or you have a negative attitude that is impacting others’ is meaningless. What did they specifically do or say that demonstrates to you a lack of accountability or an attitude problem?  Follow up with what you want them to do differently, say differently or how you want them to be different.

5. Be empathetic and caring.

Remember you will be working with this person going forward and you don’t want negative feelings to colour your interactions with them. If the shoe was on the other foot, how would you like someone to talk to you? You’d want them to be compassionate enough to understand this is a difficult conversation for you and your feelings around having it.

6. Be strong but with heart.

There is a balance between letting others know what they are doing you want changed or mistakes they are making in a way that it is clear, and not being a jerk. There is also a balance between not being a jerk and being too gentle that the message doesn’t get heard. Make sure you deliver a clear message and deliver it with heart.

7. Build in a follow up conversation.

Build in a follow up conversation to assess progress. Taking the time to have another conversation demonstrates that you truly do care about them and want to help them grow and develop. It also provides an opportunity for you to work with them again and let them know what you are seeing. You’ll find that taking this simple step often helps improve the results you will get.

About the author

Before launching Incedo Group, Executive Coach Linda Finkle built and managed an executive recruiting firm for more than twenty years. She has been interviewed in Harvard Business Review, Investor’s Business Daily, US News and World Report, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal among numerous other prestigious publications. Her book, Finding the Fork in the Road, hit the bestseller list on Amazon within three days of being launched. To learn more about Incedo Group, visit www.incedogroup.com.

Contents of this article remain the property of the author and/or publisher.