A perk of being a great leader is seeing your team grow and succeed. And it’s always enjoyable to share that feedback and praise with them. But on the flipside, another part of being a great leader is inevitably having a difficult conversation with your team that isn’t as enjoyable. These may stem from a variety of issues – technical or clinical performance errors, inappropriate interactions with patients or other team members, attitude problems, tardiness, work attire, etc.
Sometimes these issues may be one-off flukes or they may be re-occurring. And even it’s a one-time mistake, depending on the situation, it still might deserve a one-on-one conversation. You’ll have to be the judge. It can feel uncomfortable to have a difficult conversation, as you may not want to damage your relationship with the team member. But letting problems persist can be even more damaging to your practice.
So if you do need to have a not-so-fun difficult conversation, what’s the best way to go about it? Here are a few tips:
Know your goal.
The situation will shape what your goal is. Is it an easily-resolved issue that can be done with a quick talk? Or will it require a longer discussion or a more detailed advancement plan? Does the situation require a third party to be present? Make a plan and a goal for the specific situation, so you know how much time to spend, what areas to address and how to communicate what you need to communicate.
Even though it’s a negative situation, you want to create a positive outcome from it. You want your team member to learn from the situation and advance themselves. If you come in too negative or harsh, it can be more difficult to create that outcome. The team member may become more defensive or feel attacked and shut down. Either way, it makes it harder to have a clear communication and dialogue. Certainly, you want to make sure they understand the seriousness of the situation so they don’t dismiss it, but reinforce that you do value them and want to help them provide the best care and service possible.
Make the experience less intimidating.
None of us like to make mistakes or feel like we’ve let others down, so the team member may be emotionally triggered from this conversation. Understanding that, make them feel supported by setting a positive stage, as we mentioned. In addition to telling them your concerns, be sure to ask questions and listen. This will keep things conversational, rather than them feeling scolded. This will help you both focus on the solution too. You can collaborate together to problem solve rather than point fingers.
Use the right place and the right time.
Speaking with the team member privately is a better idea than calling them out in a team meeting or in front of others. Typically, your office should work well. But keep in mind that pulling the team member in your office in front of everyone else can cause embarrassment or disrupt everyone’s work. So consider how and when you ask to speak with the team member.
Just because you speak with the team member, that doesn’t necessarily mean all is well again. If it’s a bigger performance issue that can’t be cleared up with a quick talk, build a progress plan with the team member. Be clear of what your expectations are and set follow up meetings if needed. If the issue came from a complaint, you may even follow up with the source of the complaint to see if they’ve noticed an improvement. And if you do see improvement, let the team member know and encourage them to continue. Make sure they know you’re there to support them at all times.
We’ve stated this a lot in this post, but it bears repeating – every situation is different and may need a different response. If you’re not seeing improvement and a team member is having the same problems constantly, a more formal warning may be required or even possible termination. Your defined HR guidelines and steps will play a role in this. Or maybe it’s an isolated incident, but it’s extreme enough to require a warning (or dismissal). As you improve as a leader and develop your team, you’ll have to evaluate and decide what’s best.
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