Sharing “tough love” (a.k.a. constructive feedback) with your team can be really intimidating. But before we get too deep into this topic, be sure to check out the previous posts on why it’s important to share tough love with your team and the 3 benefits of tackling difficult conversations head on.
In these previous posts, we’ve touched on why it’s your responsibility as a leader to share tough love and the benefits to you and your team of handling these conversations head-on. We’ve also talked about what happens when leaders fail to share constructive feedback and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls of putting off these important conversations.
In this post, I share why tough love is a good thing, whether or not you should outsource it, and exactly how to do it. And I show you how to do it in a way that doesn’t feel mean, scary or hurtful – to you or your team member!
Why Tough Love is Actually a Good Thing
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of today’s post, there are a few important facts to know about sharing tough love with a team member:
- Tough Love helps us learn right from wrong. This is something most of us have been used to our whole lives, as our parents/guardians provided guidance and instruction as we were growing up.
- Tough Love is helpful, not harmful. It’s critical for aiding someone in learning, growing and developing their skills and abilities. Without constructive feedback, we never get better or make progress.
- Tough Love can be given AND received. Truly effective leaders not only share constructive feedback with their team members, but they ask for it in return. This shows your team that you value feedback and aren’t above hearing it from others.
Can I Just Outsource this Conversation?
Small business owners have shared with me many times that they just don’t feel like they’re cut out to be leaders or that maybe they’ll never be great leaders.
I get questions like, “Can I just outsource the management of my team?” and “Do I really need to be the one who has this conversation? Can I just hire someone else to do it for me?”
The simplest answer I can give you is “no.”
If you have any plans to grow your team, you will always be the leader of your company and you will always have others reporting to you. Even if you hire a manager to help you lead and guide others members of your team, that individual will always report to you. And you will need to know how to have these tough conversations in order to lead and guide that person effectively.
I’m positive that if you apply the steps of my no-fail method for sharing tough love, you’ll be much more confident in your ability to lead your team!
Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of sharing tough love, and why you should be the one to handle these conversations, we can dive right into my No-Fail Method of How to Share “Tough Love” with Your Team!
The No-Fail Method for How to Share “Tough Love” with Your Team
Unless you’re downright cruel, no one really enjoys telling another person that they did something bad or that they made a mistake. It’s hard to share tough love as adults because it can feel as though you’re reprimanding or scolding the person. Unfortunately, most small business owners have never been taught the art of how to share bad news in a way that is helpful and maintains another person’s self-confidence. Which means that it can feel really scary and overwhelming!
I’m going to share information and tips that I’ve used successfully throughout my career and that I’ve advised others on using about how to effectively share tough love with your team. And I know you can do it, too – all with confidence and heart (and a lot less fear)!
Share both positive and constructive feedback often.
Sharing feedback regularly helps your team get comfortable with a two-way dialogue about their performance.
It’s often easier for leaders to tell their team members that they’re doing a great job. But it’s important to continuously share where they’re preforming well, as well as where they could improve. If/when the time comes to share really uncomfortable feedback with your team member, it will be much easier on the both of you!
You should be sharing feedback with your team on a weekly basis at the minimum. This could be anything from a simple, “Thanks for a job well done!” to a more in-depth conversation around how they could continue to improve in their role.
Normalize the conversation around performance and it won’t be as intimidating to share tough love!
Always assume positive intent.
What the heck does that mean? Generally, we’re taught to never assume anything, as it usually leads to no good. But this case is different, I promise!
Assuming positive intent simply means that you’re giving someone the benefit of the doubt that they tried to do the right thing (or at least weren’t intentionally trying to do the wrong thing).
Never, ever, ever go into a conversation with your mind already made up. If you weren’t there witnessing the situation or have first-hand knowledge of the issue, then you truly don’t know what happened. And when you jump to conclusions, you can absolutely make the whole situation worse, which is how many leaders find themselves with even big problems (i.e. legal issues!).
Approach every conversation with your team members with an assumption that they were trying to do the right thing. And then follow up with questions to find out more about what really happened. Sometimes, you might be surprised to learn that they were doing the best they could – and just need a bit more gentle guidance.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Even though you’re going to approach the conversation with positive intent, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to the point. There’s nothing worse that sitting in a meeting with a leader who’s so uncomfortable with the impending conversation, that they beat around the bush for what feels like an eternity.
It’s a good idea to avoid overdoing the friendly banter before you dive into what you need to talk about. (What I mean is chit-chat like: “How was your weekend? Have any plans for the summer?”) This conversation is perfectly fine for everyday circumstances (and I highly encourage it!), but it just makes for a really awkward intro to what you need to talk to the person about. It makes the whole situation uncomfortable for everyone – believe me, I’ve been there before!
As awkward or uncomfortable as it may feel for you, it’s much worse for the team member. Start off something simple and direct like,
“Hi Ted, how are you doing? Great, thanks so much for meeting with me today. I wanted to talk with you about something that happened last week and get your input.”
Rip that bandage off and say what you need to say. But do it in a tactful and respectful manner.
Be respectful and avoid blaming.
You should be respectful of your team member and avoid immediately placing the blame on them. Remember: assume positive intent! Keep it conversational and try to understand what happened from the team member’s point of view.
My favorite statement to use is: “Help me understand…” When you use this statement, you let the team member know you’re interested in finding out what actually happened – and that you’re not on a witch hunt! Here are a few examples:
“Help me understand what happened with the upset customer you tried to help last week.”
“Help me understand why you sent this email.”
“Help me understand why the time stamps aren’t matching up on these reports.”
Using this statement often helps the team member open up to you, rather than putting up their defenses.
Ask probing questions to better understand.
As the team member begins to share with you what happened, ask probing questions to get additional details. Probing questions are ones that ask who, what, when, where, why and how. They sound like this:
“When did this conversation take place?”
“Where were you when the customer came into the store upset?”
“Who else was around when this happened?”
“Why did you make that decision?”
You can see that each of these questions avoids blaming and is simply asking for more information. By gathering as much information as you can, you will be able to make a more well-informed decision about how you will handle the situation.
Make an informed decision.
Now that you have all the facts (or at least what you can gather from the team member) you can determine how the rest of the conversation goes. Here are some options for what to do next if the team member was in the wrong:
Coach the team member on how you would have handled the situation differently.
Provide additional training or guidance.
Set expectations for how to handle the situation in the future.
If the situation was especially bad, you may decide on further disciplinary action, up to and including termination. However, this should be your last resort and be taken very seriously.
Other Helpful Tips for a Productive Conversation
- Gather any data you may need for the meeting ahead of time. Depending on the conversation, you may have an email from an upset customer, notes from another team member who came to you with a concern, time records, etc. These are for your review and use only.
- Jot down some notes to help you stay on track with the points you wish to cover and questions you want to ask.
- Talk with your team member in-person (or on video call, if they’re a remote worker) and privately.
- Limit distractions by silencing your phone or leaving it in another room.
- Make sure to have paper and pen with you to take notes. You will want to document your conversation to place in the team member’s employee file.
- Set aside a specific period of time for the meeting – 30 minutes to 1 hour works best. And stick to it! Let the team member know up front that you have set aside this time to chat with them. (This helps keep the conversation on track and on time. Otherwise, they can last forever.)
- Keep the meeting conversational, show concern and empathy. Avoid condemning, blaming and/or threatening.
- Ask questions and let the team member respond fully. Fight the urge to fill the empty space with chatter. Ask a question and then wait 10 seconds to allow them to respond. (This can feel very uncomfortable, but I promise it works!)
- Set expectations in this conversation for going forward, don’t just tell the team member that they did something wrong.
- Over the next several weeks, monitor how things are going. If the team member improves, make sure to give them praise for a job well done!
Even more awkward than actually having a tough conversation with your team member can be how to act moving forward. My best advice is to go about things “business as usual.” Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t treat them any differently.
If you don’t make the situation all awkward and weird, they won’t either. Their pride or ego may be hurt for a couple of days, but as long as you treat the person with respect and empathy, things will get back to normal pretty quickly.
If you truly come from a place of wanting to help the person learn and grow, they will have even more respect for you as a leader!
Need More Guidance?
Do you have a situation that you’re currently dealing with and you have no idea where to start?
Would you like a bit more one-on-one help to navigate the situation and get specific advice on what to do and say?
Contact me today to set up a time for us to chat and be on your way to having even more confidence in your role as a leader!
Happy Sprouting! 🌱
Disclaimer: The information in this post is intended for having tough conversations with Employees of your Company, not Independent Contractors. If you are having an issue with an Independent Contractor and would like to discuss how to handle it, please contact me. The laws for handling these two different types of workers vary greatly!