“So you are saying even being direct was not getting through to this assistant. I think asking them what they think, and if they heard what the problem is can make sure the other person heard this issue” is a follow-up comment by the reader who prompted this blog post.

In this particular blog post, the boss believed they were being direct with finesse. Their interpretation of finesse was to deliver a clear message with an increased emphasis on sparing the recipient’s feelings. Sometimes this approach backfires for a number of reasons:

  1. The boss becomes more concerned with the reaction of the employee and dilutes the message.
  2. The employee walks away believing the issue is minor when it is a major one.
  3. The boss assumes their subordinate wants to be talked to the way he or she wants to hear things – when it may be very different.

It is my guess that the boss may have tried to follow up with the questions this reader is posing, though the conversation may have been cut short. It is more likely, other factors were working against them.

These types of conversations are usually not the ones that bosses want to have with their employees and visa versa. If we play out the scenario differently, it is probable the employee acted like they understood. After all, he or she wants to get out of the hot seat as soon as they can! Alternatively, the boss wants to dispose of this difficult conversation quickly.

The solution is – ensure that conversations complete the full feedback loop approach. If you follow these steps, you will increase your success with difficult conversations:

Step 1: Define the problem clearly with examples.

Step 2: Identify how the problem affects results or relationships.

Step 3:  If you have a preferred solution, share it; otherwise brainstorm and explore options together.

Step 4: Agree on a solution. The solution will include specific behavior changes, reinforcements and timing. The solution should focus on delivering the desired outcome(s).

Step 5: Discuss how this new behavior or result will look when you see it (the successful outcome). Be detailed in the description – create a picture where the employee visually sees themselves doing it.

Step 6: Ask the other person to restate their understanding of each step. Learn how to ask better questions by avoiding closed-end questions. Let them tell you what they think in their own words.

Step 7: Set a meeting time to review progress and make adjustments.

To help facilitate the discussion, consider sharing this model with the employee before you start the conversation. They will know what to expect as the discussion progresses and you will find less resistance to correcting undesirable behaviors and outcomes.