Be proactive in tackling difficult situations

published by the Nashville Business Journal

Leaders frequently face all sorts of difficult situations with team members, peers and bosses. Issues might include bad attitudes, performance shortfalls, procrastination, lack of communication, poor attendance or staff conflict, among other topics. As a leader it is your job to deal with these problems by keeping one goal in mind: a positive outcome.

Yet as compassionate human beings we tend to delay dealing with the obvious in hopes that all will somehow resolve itself. These issues often worry us and even keep us awake at night, but we tend to avoid facing them head on, soothing ourselves with thoughts like, “I won’t worry, I know he will straighten out.” How naïve we are.

The facts are that the sooner we deal with performance issues of any kind the more likely we will achieve a favorable outcome. Procrastinating makes a problem that much more difficult to resolve. The best approach is to start planning as soon as you realize there is an issue and think the situation through clearly and carefully before taking action. Also it’s often helpful to discuss your plan with someone in human resources, or with your boss or maybe a mentor.

Here are a few key thoughts for planning your constructive discussion:

List the facts: Use actual performance-related figures and observations, such as: Job not completed as scheduled by 9 a.m. on Friday; absent this month on the 5th, 12th and 13th, totaling 17 days this year; on Tuesday, observed employee hollering at a coworker.

Avoid generalizations: Stay away from vague topics and generalizations. Don’t criticize someone’s attitude unless you have concrete examples and don’t knock performance unless you have detailed, measurable data.

Plan ahead: Prepare your discussion points in advance so you are calm, cool and collected when you are ready to talk. Review these in detail and be sure you are armed with specifics in case others have questions. Don’t react, but rather think before you respond to avoid saying things you will regret later.

Schedule the meeting: Set the discussion time few hours away, but don’t provide enough time to sleep on it. Find a neutral location like a conference room. If talking in an office, set up so you’re face to face and shut off all electronic devices that might interrupt a discussion.

Conduct yourself professionally: Ask for confirmation of the facts to avoid misunderstanding the issues. Stay composed and don’t allow emotions to enter or take over the conversation. Then try to establish an agreed-upon future plan to put the issue to rest.

Difficult conversations are hard, but the longer we delay them the more difficult discussions will be. So as soon as you realize there’s a conflict, take the initiative to resolve it early. Real leadership requires being proactive about performance issues.


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