Being a manager means never having to say you’re sorry. No wait, that’s some dumb line from a horrible 1970s movie. However, there may be some truth in that statement.
Sometimes, as a manager, you have to have difficult conversations with employees that are guaranteed to make them defensive, angry, and not want to hang out with you after work anymore. You may feel like a cad and want to apologize, but there’s really nothing to apologize for. You’re just doing your job.
That’s why managers get paid the big bucks. Because when there’s an issue with an employee, everyone expects the manager to “do something about it.” And if you don’t, they’ll think you’re a wimp and that nobody really gives a @#%$.
In no particular order, here are 10 employee conversations that managers would rather not have. But you may have to. So, I’ve included links from credible sources to some practical guidelines for each conversation.
In addition to hopefully being a helpful survival guide for current managers, this may also be a good link to share with anyone considering being a manager. If they can finish reading without running away screaming in terror, they just might have management potential.
1. Your performance sucks.
This one is the most common and obvious, but that doesn’t mean most managers don’t dread having to confront an employee about poor performance. Here’s my recommended approach: “How to confront an employee performance problem.”
2. Your co-workers can’t stand you.
This one is trickier than the first, because you may be responding to complaints about the employee that you have not observed or experienced. In fact, the issues may even be a surprise to you. It’s important to take the complaints seriously, without jumping to conclusions. In this case, you may need to conduct an employee investigation.
3. You smell terrible.
Ah, the classic of difficult employee conversations. I’ll leave this one to Ask a Manager’s Alison Green: “Telling an employee she has body odor.”
4. You didn’t get the raise or promotion.
It’s no fun delivering bad news that hits an employee in the pocketbook. Advice from Forbes: “The 10 commandments for delivering bad news.”
5. You’re fired!
With all due respect to Donald Trump, I think the HR Bartender, Sharlyn Lauby, offers some good advice with “Terminating employees: How to fire right.”
6. Are you on something?
Confronting an employee that you or others suspect may be loaded or high contains a minefield of potential issues. Tread carefully. From HR Morning: “You suspect an employee is using drugs: What now?”
7. You’re not yourself these days.
The employee’s acting a little weird, and you or others suspect that the employee is suffering from some type of mental condition. These days, workplace violence is a real concern, and so is your concern for your employee’s well-being. From Mental Health Works: “How can I approach an employee about their mental illness?”
8. You dress like it’s Halloween.
My last company had a strict dress code, so managers had to have a lot of conversations about dress code violations. Here’s Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations, with “Addressing inappropriate work attire.”
9. Are you pregnant?
In most cases, that’s a question you never ask a woman. I learned that the hard way when I once asked a co-worker early in my career. She wasn’t. However, Tim Sackett tackles this one straight on with “Knocked up: The conversation most managers don’t want to have.”
10. You’re a thief.
Yikes, your employee is selling company office supplies on eBay! What to do? Here’s a comprehensive guide from HR Morning: “Practical steps for addressing theft in the workplace.”
Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire. He writes the award-winning leadership-development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. E-mail McCarthy.