Any leader inevitably faces a sensitive conversation with someone important who lets you down.  Follow these 3 important “Don’ts and Do’s” for a successful result.

You want a positive outcome in any conversation. Achieving it in a disciplinary conversation is tricky. Most leaders are their own worst enemies when it comes to these uncomfortable conversations. Letting ego and emotions take over is a formula for failure. If your ego takes over your conversation is dead! Use these simple tips to keep people comfortable, while leading them to the best outcome.

1. Don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions.

Most leaders find it very easy to fall into this trap.  You believe you know the situation and your intuition is usually right.  But as a leader you must catch yourself the second you assume you know what is happening. Not only is there a likelihood that you don’t know the entire situation, but jumping to conclusions can make you seem calloused and misinformed. Instead, try imagining why the person acted that way before your conversation.  If you can look for an excuse for them, you are in an understanding mindset and better apt to come across as caring.

2. Don’t accuse or judge.

The worst thing a leader can do in a difficult situation is to accuse the person of doing something wrong. Once you accuse the person, you are passing judgment. This is a terrible thing to do in any facet of your life.  If you believe the person didn’t act to your standard and judge them as inferior because of it, you are no better than him/her. If you verbalize your judgment, you are attacking the person’s character and destroying your relationship. Accusing or judging is a leadership sin, and the fastest way to put a person on the defensive.

3. Don’t start the conversation explaining your side of the situation.

Start by having the person explain himself. You will have time to talk about how you feel, but let them talk first.  Ensure the person has a clear understanding of the issue.  For you to reach a positive outcome, this individual must understand the ramifications of his actions and how those actions affect others. Your customers, team members, and the whole company are affected when someone behaves badly.  The most important thing is this person commits to corrective action at the end of the conversation, but the action starts with understanding.  You need to understand him first, not the other way around.

1. Do ask questions.

The easiest way to kick off the conversation and move it in the right direction is to begin by asking questions and gain an understanding of what happened. The only way to get to the bottom of the story is to ask questions in a non-judgmental manner. The easiest questions to ask are open ended. “John, tell me what happened?” “Are you aware of this situation?” “Would you please explain this situation to me?”

2. Do share how you are feeling.

Or more importantly, how the person’s actions made you feel. A great question to ask is, “How do you think I felt when I discovered you did this?” Another good one is, “How would you feel if the shoe was on the other foot?”

3. Do use care and compassion when confronting the person.

Chalmers Brothers calls this “Care-frontation.” A leader must choose his words carefully and keep negative emotions out of disciplinary conversations.  Employ the techniques in this article and your difficult conversations will be more productive for you and your team member.


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