Planning to have that difficult conversation

Five steps that will ensure the meeting is a success

There is no easy way to have “that” difficult conversation with an employee. That’s why so many managers who are accomplished in other areas sometimes don’t handle the meeting as well as they should.

I should know. During my career I have attended many such meetings. One thing differentiates the meetings that went well (relatively speaking) from those that didn’t. And that’s preparation.

Below I have detailed the five essential steps to take in advance of, during and after the meeting to ensure that it is conducted in an appropriate and professional manner.

STEP 1: Prepare thoroughly. Check the facts and then check them again

Thorough preparation is essential. Give yourself sufficient time to prepare for the meeting, this is one meeting that you cannot get wrong. Revisit the facts and be prepared to challenge them yourself. Don’t assume that they are correct; be certain.

STEP 2: Plan the meeting but don’t read from a script

Prepare a comprehensive checklist highlighting all the key points that must be considered. The checklist should also address how you want the meeting to be conducted.

STEP 3: Do not forget that you are managing the meeting

Be clear, concise focussed (and assertive) in the way you manage the meeting. Don’t adopt a timid, apologetic, subservient approach. Striking the right balance between the two contrasting styles is important.

Remember that it’s you who have called the meeting and are therefore responsible for managing it effectively. Ensure that notes are taken.

STEP 4: Time manage the meeting for it to be properly conducted

Allow enough time for the meeting, don’t rush it, but equally don’t allow it to become unnecessarily long. If you anticipate that the meeting will take an hour, allow an hour and a quarter, but don’t be surprised if it is over in 45 minutes.

Summarise throughout and without being patronising, check that the employee understands what is being said. It’s not uncommon in stressful meetings for the employee to fail to fully comprehend what is being said to them.

STEP 5: Confirm in writing to the employee, think about post meeting actions

Although not part of the meeting, it’s important that matters are communicated in writing post meeting. The letter should summarise the matters discuss, the decision reached, the reason for reaching that decision, required future actions and details of the appeal process if applicable.

So, in summary, the key is preparation. The old adage “fail to prepare and therefore prepare to fail” is as true here as it is in any other situation. And by its nature this is one meeting you cannot, should not and must not manage badly.

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