Why you should stop putting off that tricky conversation

Jun 23, 2013 | Good Management

One of the pieces of advice I give on a regular basis to clients and contacts alike is not to procrastinate when contemplating difficult conversations with employees.

These difficult conversations might be about your employee’s performance, might be relating to sickness absence, behaviour in the workplace or even personal hygiene. As managers having these conversations from time to time is unavoidable and yet many managers do seem to avoid them at all costs!

Here are my top five reasons why you shouldn’t put off difficult conversations:

1. It won’t go away

Really really it won’t. And it won’t get better on its own either. In fact, depending on what the issue is, it’s entirely likely to get worse.

2. You might be limiting your options later

If you need to take disciplinary action, or even dismiss someone, as a result of the issue, but haven’t raised it in a timely manner, giving the person reasonable opportunity to improve, you’ll be in hot water.

I come across this frequently, where a manager has avoided raising the difficult issues, hoping they will go away or improve on their own, get more and more frustrated and get to the point where they feel they have no option but to dismiss the person, only to find that this is not possible due to previous inaction.

3. It’s not fair on the employee

One of the common reasons managers avoid difficult conversations is because they personally like the employee in question and don’t want to upset them.

If it’s a performance concern, and may have an impact on their future with the business, or on their salary or bonus, or might be impacting on their relationships with colleagues and thereby on their happiness at work, you are doing them no favours at all by avoiding the issue.

Raising concerns in a prompt manner gives them a reasonable opportunity to improve their performance, allows them to raise concerns they have themselves, to inform you of other issues (perhaps relating to their health or personal life) that may be contributing to the problem and that you may be able to help with, or to ask for training they feel they need.

4. It’s not fair on colleagues

One of the main causes of negative atmospheres, high turnover and low morale in the workplace is resentment about problems not being addressed by management.

If there is an issue, you owe to the whole team to address it promptly, and improvements in the atmosphere at work and in the team’s morale will impact on your bottom line as well. Bonus!

5. It’s stressful for you!

Believe it or not, the anticipation of these conversations is frequently worse than the reality.

As a manager, putting up with the fall-out of, say, a performance problem with an employee, in terms of management time dealing with errors, staff unhappiness, lost revenue is bad enough. But the growing sense of irritation turning to resentment and then to anger towards the employee in question can becoming over-powering and all-consuming, draining mental energy which could be better expended in a positive manner.

One thing even more stressful than a serious problem is a serious problem you are taking no steps to improve. A sense that you are doing something to make improvements is enormously stress-relieving I find!

So take a deep breath and don’t put off that tricky conversation any longer. If you’re worried about what you can and can’t say, or about legal implications of your actions, do take advice first, but don’t procrastinate any more!

If you need help with a difficult employee conversation please contact us at [email protected].