Whether it's a discussion with an employee, a loved one, or a supplier, we all have those conversations we would rather avoid.

The problem is, if we don't front up and deal professionally with the issue, it will soon spiral out of control causing deeper problems, as well as providing a lower expected performance standard for others in your organisation.

Saying what needs to be said

Lisa Mackay, Managing Director of HRtoolkit Ltd (www.hrtoolkit.co.nz) says: "Employers reach out when they are at the end of their tether with something an employee is doing (or not doing), and they just want the problem to go away."


All too often, the issue is that they have never set their expectations clearly. "A common example is timekeeping," Lisa says. "What does start at 8.30am mean? Does it mean come in the door at 8.30am, OR be at your desk ready to start productive work at 8.30am?"

That 10 to 15 minutes of hanging up your coat, making a coffee or having breakfast can cause extreme frustration, not only for the manager, but also for the other workers who were there, ready to start on time. Of course that 10 minutes, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, equates to over 40 hours, or 2 per cent of their annual salary.

Lisa believes "frequently people are just doing the wrong things for what they perceive to be the right reasons, or because they simply don't know what they are doing is being frowned on, because no one has ever told them".

Top tips for courageous conversations

So what are some great practical tips for that "courageous conversation"?

1. Actually have it!

It sounds really obvious, but frequently issues can be prevented, just by having a casual chat at an early stage to set the expectations, and nip the problem in the bud. "By the time HR get involved, the behaviours are so ingrained that people react negatively when they are corrected."

2. Deal in facts


Unsubstantiated accusations will almost always result in a fight or flight response, which will only make the problem worse. Focus rather on facts like "you were 20 minutes' late yesterday, and 30 minutes late Tuesday". Lisa points out "these are specific facts which can't be disputed. It also gives the person a clear understanding of exactly what the issue is, and how they can fix it".

3. Stick to the main issues and don't waffle

Any unclear or superfluous communication will only muddle your message. "Stick to your facts, and don't try to sugar-coat the message" Lisa says. "Ultimately you need a specific behaviour to change, so give them the courtesy of clearly understanding exactly what the change you require is."

The complete leader

Being a quality leader is difficult, even when you are in charge of a great team.

Things become even more challenging when someone is wittingly or unwittingly dragging down the morale or performance of your business through poor performance. You therefore owe it to you team to have that "courageous conversation".

Tom O'Neil is an award winning speaker and best-selling author.