Sandra Wiley
Sandra Wiley

Five steps to tackling “sticky” conversations with employees

Understanding how to deal effectively with tough personnel situations is imperative to your success as a leader. Following these steps will help.

December 19, 2013
By Sandra Wiley

The profession of accounting is full of very nice people. And sometimes that does not reconcile with the tough personnel situations we are thrown into.

Leaders will certainly not go through their career without being thrown into circumstances that they simply don’t want to handle, such as talking to an employee about hygiene or inappropriate dress or inappropriate jokes, or having frank conversations with an employee who needs an attitude adjustment or a little more work (or life) in his or her work/life balance. 

There are many other sticky situations that you will find yourself in, and understanding how to deal with them effectively is imperative to your success as a leader and the success of the individual in question. Here are the steps that will help you negotiate through these tough conversations:

1. Define the conflict in writing. It is imperative to really have a clear vision of what the conflict is, who it is affecting, why it is negative for the firm, and what the positive effects of change will be. 

2. Make a commitment to have the conversation. Set a time and a place to actually have a conversation. The conversation should be private and scheduled with enough time to not be rushed. Give yourself and the team member time to really interact.

3. Prepare an outline of key points. Stress can make us lose our thoughts. It is important to have key points in front of you to ensure you do not forget all of the points you want to discuss.

4. Start the conversation with an attitude of help and care. If you start attacking and blaming at the beginning of the conversation, you will most likely not accomplish a positive outcome. Set the tone by stating your expectations and your desire for an amicable outcome, and ask the other person for his or her perspective on the situation. You should observe and inquire, then listen. In the conversation, make sure to provide examples and stories to ensure that the team member understands the situation, and remember to restate your commitment to finding a solution that is best for the firm.

5. Develop a plan for change. Before you leave the conversation, make sure that you both agree on a plan for change—and a specific time frame to make it happen. Also, never leave the conversation without setting a follow-up date to review progress. It is also important to put the plan in writing; it helps facilitate the understanding for everyone. 

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Sandra Wiley is COO of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., and is a regular speaker on topics such as team building, talent development, and performance improvement.