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We’ve all had to have awkward or difficult conversations with someone at work. Many of us spend enormous amounts of time considering how the other person will respond, and forget to concentrate on how we can put our message across in the most effective way.

The ‘sandwich method’ (say something positive, give the negative feedback, and then end on a positive note) is only successful if you have genuine positive pointers to share. Most intelligent employees are aware of the tactic, and pick up quickly that you are using a ‘method’ rather than being authentic.

So, how do you have those difficult conversations?

Here are 10 easy steps that should make the next confrontation easier to manage:

  1. Address the issue, not the person. The less personal, and the more objective you are, the more effective your feedback will be.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. You cannot simply tell someone that his or her standard of work is not good enough. You need to have concrete examples that prove the errors obviously.
  3. Have a clear outcome in mind. Know why you are having the discussion, and what you really want to achieve from the talk, as well as what may result from the conversation.
  4. Make notes. When you have a difficult conversation, you cannot freeze, or forget, what you want to say. Once you have created the opportunity to converse, you need to communicate professionally. Make notes of what you want to say, and in what order, so that your discussion follows a logical sequence.
  5. Listen actively. There is always another perspective. Give the employee the opportunity to speak, and not just for the sake of letting them speak. Actually listen to what they are saying.
  6. Diagnose the problem. There can only be so many reasons for non-performance. Make sure that you have considered both internal factors, such as motivation, ability and skills, as well as external factors, such as resources, training and opportunities. It’s only when all factors are taken into consideration that an issue can truly be resolved.
  7. Be constructive. Engage in the discussion as a problem solving exercise, rather than as a disciplinary event. If you are open and genuine, the employee should pick up on that and participate, rather than defend.

  8. Define measurable milestones. Together with the employee, clearly define how and when future performance will be measured, so that goals are clear and assessable.
  9. Create a partnership. You and the employee are in this together. You need to work effectively as a team to resolve the issue. Ensure that you have provided, and continue to deliver, the support, resources and clear understanding of the outcomes, so that the employee is not limited from performing in any way.
  10. Reward success. Even if effective performance is part of the employee’s job description, you have engaged in a process, and there must be positive reinforcement to commend the effort and results, and embed future positive behaviour.

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