Shelley SmithBlog, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development

How to talk to employees

Are there whispered chats at your water cooler? Groups gathered in the hallways, only to disperse upon being approached? Have you been a part of, or the victim of, one such group? Be honest.

Of course, such incidents happen everywhere, every so often. But if your company is beginning to feel more like a soap opera than a place of business, then your problem may be more serious than you think. Systemic issues occur over and over again, and if you pay attention you’ll start to notice the patterns for yourself.

Why are honesty, feedback & constructive criticism so difficult? What is the Solution?

Past voices of opposition were silenced, abandoned, or simply moved on to better opportunities. It just seems easier to let the problems go on at this point.

  • Cyclical ailments can be cured instantly by making a choice. For example, the next time you’re in a team meeting and that same old project with that same old roadblock comes up, don’t sweep it back under the rug like it’s been all season. Stop kicking the ball around and aim for the goal. Stop everything and ask what is causing the problem, and what needs to be done to fix it. Then do those things.How to Talk to Employees

You don’t want to hurt your coworker’s feelings, so low-quality work keeps going out the door and they aren’t learning best practices.

  • Criticism with the word ‘constructive’ in front of it isn’t mean—it’s helpful. Far from pointing out flaws, look for ways to improve. Nobody can grow, learn, or succeed in a vacuum. If your coworker does get defensive, gently remind them that you’re only trying to help, but don’t push the issue. Sometimes feedback is hard to hear, but your mild approach should remove some of the sting.

If you speak up the higher-ups may fire you, and you’ve got bills to pay.

  • I hear you. We’ve all got bills to pay—but we can do ourselves the courtesy of enjoying a comfortable work environment with open, candid conversations while we hustle.
  • It can be hard to stand up to management, particularly in an oppressive workplace. Sometimes you’ve got no other choice but to silently lead by example. If you’re committed to this company, you love the culture, and the people are your team, then you’ve just got to step up. Work hard, stay positive, be proactive, and above all, be honest.
  • For example, If you don’t think a coworker’s report includes enough detail, offer to work with them to polish it to perfection. When you finish a hefty task, send it to a colleague to review—ask them to specify how it could be improved. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is all it takes, and by seeking feedback yourself, demonstrate that you too seek growth.

And if you are leadership, what can you do?

  • Treat all of your people … like people! Remember that nobody likes to feel attacked, so always approach difficult conversations from a place of understanding and compassion. You’re on the same team, and you wouldn’t have the talk if you didn’t care—you just need to remind them.

There are always risks with standing up and challenging the status quo, but I’ve found that they’re often well worth it. Next time you’re tempted to take the easy way out and avoid the tough talk, I hope you’ll reconsider, take a deep breath, and say:

“Wait. How can we make this even better?”