Handling an employee who is underperforming or not acting according to professional standards is a delicate situation. It is crucial to be intentional with how you approach the topic of concern so you can actually work together to get to the root of the problem and improve it, rather than causing them to be confused or defensive. If you are questioning an employee, consider these three tips:
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Avoid going into a conversation with your employee with any preconceived notions regarding the cause of their behavior. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What kinds of tools and resources do you think you may need to make your workload easier?” or “What could I do to help ensure we are on the same page for expectations?” This gives them an opportunity to provide you insight so you can understand their perspective and collaborate to improve matters while feeling validated and respected by you.
2. Prompt for More Insight
Be cognizant of the fact that the employee may be uncomfortable during your interaction, which may affect their ability to be as articulate and informative as you would both like. If their responses seem brief and don’t provide enough information to help you determine how to come up with ways to address the issue together, prompt them for more insight. Ask follow-up questions to get them to elaborate so you have as much detail to work with as possible, such as “Could you tell me more about what you meant by…” or “Could you give an example?”
3. Practice Active Listening
The manner in which you listen is arguably more important than what you say during a conversation with an underperforming employee. Since the point of facilitating the conversation is to gain a mutual understanding of the problem and its contributing factors, practicing active listening is key. Make eye contact and show you are listening by occasionally nodding or giving a small verbal confirmation like “Okay,” or “I see.” Once you ask a question, be intentional about really trying to hear what the employee is saying and empathizing with their experience without judgment or making conclusions. This will make them more likely to feel it’s a productive discussion and want to take it seriously.
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