Having a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

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Every partner hospital is different, and so are we!
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As a manager, sometimes you have to have conversations with your employees that aren’t so easy to have. Maybe a receptionist is being slightly rude to customers on the phone, or maybe a veterinary technician is causing unnecessary drama with the rest of the team. These conversations are daunting because they deal with personal, and sometimes emotional, topics. It may be tempting to put having a difficult conversation with an employee at the bottom of your to-do list, but it is crucial to have a discussion as soon as any issue arises. Avoiding important conversations with your employees will only hurt a practice in the long run.

Although these conversations seem scary, they don’t have to be. If you remember these six basic guidelines, you can facilitate a positive and constructive discussion.

  1. Be prepared. Before you can begin your conversation, you need to know what you want to say and how you want to say it. This means you will need to have facts to support your statements. If the conversation is about a performance issue, you should be able to describe how the employee is not meeting expectations. The better prepared you are, the easier the conversation will be.
  2. Be open. A conversation is a dialogue – it requires input from all people involved. Ask your employee about their view of the issue. Listen to what they say, and let them know that you have heard what they said.
  3. Be direct. Choose a specific objective to focus the conversation, and make that objective clear from the beginning of the conversation. For example, if the employee is rude to customers, base your discussion on one scenario in which you observed the employee being rude. Focusing on one specific issue, rather than a catalog of issues, prevents the conversation from seeming like a list of grievances against the team member. However, don’t beat around the bush either; make the issue clear to your employee. In the case of a performance issue, using vague or lenient language is actually a disservice to your employee, because the employee may not understand what the issue is or how to correct it.
  4. Be objective. Try to base your claims on facts, not hearsay, and focus on the issue, not the employee. This keeps the issue from feeling personal. Being objective also means holding all of your employees to the same performance standards. If another employee is exhibiting similar issues, you should have the same conversation with them.
  5. Be proactive. As soon as the issue has been addressed, turn the conversation into a collaboration to resolve it. First, ask your employee if they have ideas of how to solve the problem. You can also offer advice based on your own experiences in similar situations. Together, create a plan of action to resolve the issue moving forward. This will also help you end the conversation on a positive note.
  6. Be positive. It’s vital to keep a positive tone throughout the conversation. Focus on what the employee can do right in the future, rather than what they have done wrong in the past. End the conversation on a positive note by deciding on a solution to the issue.
  7. Follow-up. After the conversation, remember to follow up two weeks later with your employee to make sure that they are following through with your determined plan of action. Remember, the most important thing is that you help your team continue to improve. Additionally, even if you observe improvement, still have the meeting – simply commending them on their effort will go a long way toward reinforcing the improvement.
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