How to Have Difficult Conversations in Small Sized Businesses

As soon as you take on employees in your business you will, in time, face issues that need to be addressed by having a difficult conversation.  Sometimes in a small business you will have friends or family working for you.  Some of these individuals may have been with you since the early days and have supported you through business start-up and through tough times.  This does bring the risk that there will be a familiarity between employer and employee and when issues arise that need to be addressed you will inevitably be reluctant to address them.  Difficult conversations won’t be effective if you shout or treat the issue casually.  You are the business owner and with that responsibility comes a need for respect.  Likewise, your Line Managers and Supervisors have role that need respect too.  Being too familiar or underconfident in dealing with an issue can come back and bite you!

Remember that these individuals are your employees and you have employment responsibilities and obligations towards them.  Employment Law does not differentiate between employees who are friends and family.  You and your Line Managers and Supervisors need to treat issues professionally and in line with what the law would consider to be a reasonable and fair manner.

When an issue arises, do not skate around it, you need to face it head on.  You need to convey the seriousness of the issue so your employee takes it seriously and changes the way they are working.  Be calm and professional, don’t fall into the trap of becoming emotional which is all too easy to do.  Don’t cloud the issue by being heavy handed or belittling the issue or the employee.  Don’t get cross and avoid blame.  Focus on the issue rather than the person and avoid giving an opinion on the employees’ personality.  Keep to the facts.  The aim of the conversation is to be constructive and get the employee to own the issue and make changes to improve.  Body language is important too.  Avoid crossing your arms and keep your voice low and calm, don’t shout even if your employee does.  Share the issue and listen to their explanations without interrupting.  Then explain what needs to change and that you want them to succeed.

So, my top 3 tips for having difficult conversations are:

  1. Be prepared – make some notes about what you want to say so you won’t be worrying about saying the wrong thing.  Use a recent example to illustrate your concern.  It might feel silly but practice what you are going to say beforehand.
  2. Don’t put the conversation off.  A word early on will likely nip any issue in the bud without if getting out of hand and reduces the risk that the employee feels they are being treated unfairly.
  3. Choose the right setting – take the employee somewhere quiet and private to have the conversation.  In front of others is a definite no!