Supervisors, managers, and HR professionals have all been there at one point in time or another, there is a poor performer on staff and the time has come to have that not so fun conversation with the employee about their ongoing performance issues. These conversations can be uncomfortable, especially if the employee is not very receptive to feedback. Sometimes managers or supervisors will avoid having these conversations altogether so they can avoid the potentially uncomfortable conversation. However, it is imperative that these conversations happen because as we all know, the longer an issue is allowed to linger the worse it becomes. Below are some tips on how to handle these types of difficult conversations.

Provide Advance Notice: Inform the employee beforehand about the upcoming meeting and its purpose. No one likes to be surprised and seeing a meeting with HR or their manager pop up on their schedule with no understanding as to why the meeting was scheduled can lead to employees becoming anxious and defensive before the meeting even starts. For example, in the calendar invite, include the reason for meeting, such as, “scheduled meeting is to discuss late shipment that went out on Monday,” or “meeting is to discuss arriving late to work three of the last five workdays.” Advance notice prevents blindsiding them and allows time for preparation, reducing anxiety and defensiveness. 

Thorough Preparation: Managers and supervisors need to prepare for these meetings as well. Gather all relevant facts and details regarding the performance issues to ensure a well-informed discussion. Also, it is important to review relevant policies or work rules that the manager or supervisor plans to reference or note during the meeting. If the meeting is going to involve discipline or a significant issue, the manager or supervisor should make sure that HR is available to attend the meeting as well. The most effective meetings are based on facts; therefore, a manager or supervisor should never be of the mindset that they can just wing these types of conversations.

Understand Preferred Feedback Style: Inquire about the employee’s preferred feedback approach at the beginning of the meeting. Some employees like their managers to be direct with them while others may prefer a gentler approach. This will lead to a more productive meeting as the employee will feel that their feelings are being considered and also the manager will be providing feedback in a manner that the employee is most receptive to.

Monitor Emotional Climate: Throughout the discussion, remain attuned to the emotional dynamics in the room. If things appear to be becoming too emotional or it seems that the employee is not feeling great about the situation, the manager or supervisor should allow everyone in the meeting to take a break and to step out of the room for a breather. After everyone has had a moment to step away, it is usually a lot easier to get the meeting back on track once everyone returns.

Active Listening: Encourage the employee to share their perspective and actively listen to their insights. This is important because the employee will feel heard, but also employees have valid points and will sometimes provide clues to the reasons for underperforming when they speak. Further, managers and supervisors need to actively listen so they do not miss information that may trigger an employer’s obligations under the laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

Develop Action Plan: Collaboratively establish a concrete action plan with measurable goals and timelines. Some of the action plan can be created by the manager or supervisor when preparing for the meeting, but the plan can also be further developed and worked on with the employee during the meeting. Each part of the plan should be concrete and specific so that the employee has clear expectations and directions on how to meet those expectations moving forward.

By implementing these strategies, supervisors, managers, and HR professionals can navigate difficult conversations with employees effectively, fostering a constructive approach to addressing performance issues.