Handling Difficult Conversations the Right Way, From Discipline to Termination

Every manager deals with difficult conversations at some point, ranging from first-time discipline to yearly reviews and even termination. Handling these situations becomes easier in time, but obviously no manager wants to become experienced in handling terminations. Even if you end up disciplining or terminating only a few people in your management career, you can handle these few situations much more easily by adding a few practical suggestions to your arsenal.

Choose the Timing Wisely

Luckily for you, it’s easy to figure out if the time is right to address an issue. Is it recent? Then address it. Avoid cool down periods between witnessing a problem and addressing it. If you need time to make sure that the issue is actually an issue, then do so, but call for a meeting as soon as you reasonably can. Holding back means that the issue seems less immediate, which is never good.

Move Right Into the Important Details

When you’re discussing work issues, never start the conversation with small talk about the kids or the pets. The meeting is serious, and you need to set the atmosphere by moving right into the subject matter. If the employee tries to change the subject by bringing up the weather or asking how last week’s vacation went, bring it right back to the matter at hand.

Handle These Meetings Professionally and Clearly

If you’re having a quick ‘talk’ with the employee about an issue, make it clear. If this is a warning or a disciplinary meeting, make that clear as well. Your employee should leave knowing exactly what the problem is in your eyes, what he or she needs to do to solve the problem and what the consequences are.

Some Conversations are One-Sided—Such as Termination

Of course, some conversations need to be as scripted as possible. Warnings are often discussions to some extent—you get the first say and the last word, but the employee has a chance to speak his or her mind and let you know (perhaps) why the issue got out of hand. Disciplinary meetings and terminations are completely different. You need to tell the employee that his or her behavior has consequences, and that there’s no negotiation at this point.

These conversations are never easy, but knowing how to handle the issue before it comes up makes it manageable. Have a plan for every type of employee issue that might require a one-on-one difficult conversation, from initial concerned talks to warnings, discipline and terminations. Handling these issues the right way means you’re doing right by your employees and avoiding ambiguity, both of which are vital in a successful manager’s day-to-day work.


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