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The Best Approach to a Difficult Team Member Conversation

April 25, 2024

Adam Lueken

You, no doubt, face many different challenges in your practice daily, from balancing business and clinical responsibilities to maintaining a high level of patient satisfaction. Having a difficult conversation with one of your team members ranks right up there. Difficult team member conversations are usually never pleasant or easy for either party, whether due to performance issues, negative interactions with other team members or patients, clinical errors, etc. The fear of how the team member may react can cause many practice leaders to put these conversations off or avoid them altogether. But that’s not good for anyone, as the unwanted behavior may continue and negatively affect that individual, your team and patients.

For performance or disciplinary actions, you may have an HR process in place for delivering an initial verbal warning, second written warning, etc. before more drastic actions are needed. But regardless of whether you have a standardized process or not, there are steps you can take from a communication perspective to help make the experience less uncomfortable or confrontational and more successful.

Experienced leaders recognize that issues will likely persist if not addressed, so here are some ways to turn a difficult conversation into a positive outcome:

Choose Your Words Carefully

No matter how well we can take criticism, it can still be a gut punch to hear – especially from a leader or fellow team member in the workplace. It’s easy for us to instinctively lash out when our performance or actions are questioned. Keep that in mind and choose your words carefully. In a positive way, reinforce that you are having this conversation with their benefit and the entire practice’s benefit in mind.

Communicate Clearly and in a Positive Tone

Lead into the discussion with good intentions, setting a positive tone. Don’t fluff anything or be misleading, as this is a serious conversation. But express your concerns in a way that’s less about being confrontational and more about helping them learn and grow.

Listen and Ask Rather Than Tell

This conversation should be two-way, meaning take the time to understand where they are coming from and what their perspective is. Ask open-ended questions that give them the chance to share their knowledge and prove their potential. Helping them understand why their actions are causing problems rather than simply telling can give them more clarity. Perhaps they didn’t know their actions were wrong. Giving them the chance to recount their actions themselves may lead to a more effective behavioral change on their part.

Focus on Solutions Instead of Only the Issue

Spend most of the conversation asking questions, listening to their feedback and focusing on creating the best solution for moving forward. Solution-based communication will help push a positive learning culture where people feel more comfortable engaging in problem-solving rather than complaining or pointing the finger at others.

Successfully carrying out difficult conversations with team members (and creating positive outcomes) is not an easy skill, and takes time and practice. With the help of these communication strategies, look at difficult conversations not as negative and stressful, but as opportunities for development and growth.

If you need help with team management in the midst of handling all your other responsibilities, we’re here to help. Schedule a consultation with one of our practice management experts today!



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