The Easy Way To Have Tough Conversations With Employees


The following is a guest piece by Karin Hurt and David Dye.

Do you have a really tough conversation you know you need to have, but you’re concerned about how it will land?

Or have you ever regretted avoiding a tough conversation, as you watch someone you really care about repeat the same mistake and get himself into deeper trouble?

If you knew someone had your best interests at heart, would you want them to tell you the truth, even if it was painful to hear?

Or maybe you have an employee who’ve you tried desperately to coach, and the bad behaviour continues.

You don’t want to say “You need to change this behaviour or else,” but the truth is – there will be consequences.

One of the greatest gifts you can give another human being is to help them discover the truth.

Keep that “feedback-is-a-gift-and-I-care-about-you” loving feeling in mind, while having a direct conversation about specifically what must change. Don’t linger. Don’t sandwich.

Try our Winning Well INSPIRE method for having tough conversations.

I – Initiate
Initiate the conversation in a respectful manner. Traditional feedback models always start with “asking for permission.” Most of the time that’s an awesome start. Sometimes, though, the conversation isn’t optional. You may need to be more direct.

“I need to talk to you today. Is this a convenient time?”

N – Notice
Share your concern or observation.

Scenario 1 – “In listening to your calls, I’ve noticed you’re not really making a connection with the customer.”

Scenario 2 – “I’ve noticed you’re drinking a lot at company events.”

S – Support
Provide supporting evidence.

Scenario 1 – “When the customer told you they were calling to disconnect because their spouse had died, you didn’t express any empathy, you just said that you would be happy to disconnect the line.”

Scenario 2 – “When you drink, your conversation becomes overly casual and loud.”

P – Provide
Provide specific suggestions on how they could improve.

Scenario 1 – “I suggest you stop to listen to what the customer is really saying, and pause and use an empathy statement before you jump right into action.”

Scenario 2 – “I would suggest you limit yourself to two beers at any company function.”

I – Inquire
Ask one or two open-ended questions to check for understanding and one closed-ended question to secure commitment.

“How would your results be better if you did that every time?”

“What concerns do you have about this approach?”

“Do I have your commitment to do that going forward?”

R – Review
Ask them to review what they are committing to do.

“Would you please recap what you’re going to differently next time?”

E – Enforce
Enforce the behaviour and why it’s important, while reinforcing your confidence that they can do this.

Scenario 1 – “I’m going to check back with you on your next three calls and ensure you keeping your commitment.”

Scenario 2 – “At our next customer dinner, my expectation is that you will have no more than 2 beers.”

“You are a very important member of this team and I have every confidence you can do this well.”

“Thank you.”

Often when employee behaviour isn’t changing, the feedback is either too vague or the conversation goes so long that the employee forgets what specifically they need to do. Work to INSPIRE specific behaviour change by using this easy technique.

Karin Hurt is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers.  David Dye is a former nonprofit executive, elected official, award-winning author, and president of Trailblaze, Inc., a leadership training and consulting firm.  To learn more about their book, visit their website

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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