Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

The Easy Way To Have Tough Conversations With Employees


The following is a guest piece by Karin Hurt and David Dye.

Do you have a really tough conversation you know you need to have, but you’re concerned about how it will land?

Or have you ever regretted avoiding a tough conversation, as you watch someone you really care about repeat the same mistake and get himself into deeper trouble?

If you knew someone had your best interests at heart, would you want them to tell you the truth, even if it was painful to hear?

Or maybe you have an employee who’ve you tried desperately to coach, and the bad behaviour continues.

You don’t want to say “You need to change this behaviour or else,” but the truth is – there will be consequences.

One of the greatest gifts you can give another human being is to help them discover the truth.

Keep that “feedback-is-a-gift-and-I-care-about-you” loving feeling in mind, while having a direct conversation about specifically what must change. Don’t linger. Don’t sandwich.

Try our Winning Well INSPIRE method for having tough conversations.

I – Initiate
Initiate the conversation in a respectful manner. Traditional feedback models always start with “asking for permission.” Most of the time that’s an awesome start. Sometimes, though, the conversation isn’t optional. You may need to be more direct.

“I need to talk to you today. Is this a convenient time?”

N – Notice
Share your concern or observation.

Scenario 1 – “In listening to your calls, I’ve noticed you’re not really making a connection with the customer.”

Scenario 2 – “I’ve noticed you’re drinking a lot at company events.”

S – Support
Provide supporting evidence.

Scenario 1 – “When the customer told you they were calling to disconnect because their spouse had died, you didn’t express any empathy, you just said that you would be happy to disconnect the line.”

Scenario 2 – “When you drink, your conversation becomes overly casual and loud.”

P – Provide
Provide specific suggestions on how they could improve.

Scenario 1 – “I suggest you stop to listen to what the customer is really saying, and pause and use an empathy statement before you jump right into action.”

Scenario 2 – “I would suggest you limit yourself to two beers at any company function.”

I – Inquire
Ask one or two open-ended questions to check for understanding and one closed-ended question to secure commitment.

“How would your results be better if you did that every time?”

“What concerns do you have about this approach?”

“Do I have your commitment to do that going forward?”

R – Review
Ask them to review what they are committing to do.

“Would you please recap what you’re going to differently next time?”

E – Enforce
Enforce the behaviour and why it’s important, while reinforcing your confidence that they can do this.

Scenario 1 – “I’m going to check back with you on your next three calls and ensure you keeping your commitment.”

Scenario 2 – “At our next customer dinner, my expectation is that you will have no more than 2 beers.”

“You are a very important member of this team and I have every confidence you can do this well.”

“Thank you.”

Often when employee behaviour isn’t changing, the feedback is either too vague or the conversation goes so long that the employee forgets what specifically they need to do. Work to INSPIRE specific behaviour change by using this easy technique.

Karin Hurt is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers.  David Dye is a former nonprofit executive, elected official, award-winning author, and president of Trailblaze, Inc., a leadership training and consulting firm.  To learn more about their book, visit their website winningwellbook.com.

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  1. On April 6th, 2016 at 10:19 AM R Cooper-Clark said:


    I am also a leadership coach and I find that if instead of providing ideas, you ask them what options they have, that is "what could you do?" it helps them to come up with answers which they are more likely to adopt.
    Rosemary Cooper-Clark

  2. On April 6th, 2016 at 11:01 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That's an excellent point, Rosemary. Another benefit of getting employees to provide ideas of possible solutions of how to do things better going forward is that it gives them a greater sense of ownership in the end outcome, which will help to fuel their drive to see it through to the end.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Rosemary.

  3. On April 6th, 2016 at 11:00 AM rteneyck42 said:

    If readers haven't looked at the work of Susan Scoot… Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership. I would highly recommend them.

  4. On April 7th, 2016 at 12:02 PM Keith said:

    Keeping the discussion focused and not letting it degenerate into a blame game or excuse-making exercise is extremely important. Once the other person is able to do either of those things it puts the meeting initiator on the defensive.

    Great strategy. Thank you.

  5. On April 15th, 2016 at 3:59 AM Bill said:

    The easiest way to engage is to derive the narrative in the situation, looking at different perspectives, understanding the language and the all important feedback to the parties concerned

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