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If I Ignore It, It Will Go Away – Management Tip

August 23, 2013

According to research by global organizations, one of the most common mistakes made by supervisors (and managers) is avoiding having difficult discussions with their employees. With over 20 years of experience delivering supervisory training, our team can attest to the validity of this research. Unfortunately, this avoidance has a negative impact on the business, on the supervisor and on the employee.

A difficult discussion by definition is one in which the supervisors needs to tell employees that they need to do behave differently or improve performance. It is completely understandable that supervisors would avoid these discussions because they are discussing personal behaviors and skills with someone who may or may not take the news positively. Many times, supervisors rationalize this avoidance by thinking the problem will go away on its own. 99% of the time, the problem not only doesn’t go away, it gets worse.

Head in Sand

Impact on the Business

When supervisors avoid having difficult discussions, there are many negative impacts on the business. If what the employee does affects the customer at all, this may be your most important concern. Not addressing something that could damage customer relationships or impact a customer’s decision to buy or buy again, will hurt your bottom line.

Avoiding difficult discussions also affects employee morale and productivity. If an employee is behaving inappropriately and it is not being addressed, your other employees can get frustrated and become less productive because they are focused the negative energy of the employee who’s behavior is not being addressed.

Impact on the Supervisor

When supervisors avoid having these discussions, it actually adds an additional level of stress to their day because they know they need to have the discussion and often get distracted by their avoidance. Supervisors can lose productivity and even make mistakes because it is constantly on their mind. If the discussion being avoided is about a mistake an employee continually makes, supervisors lose time fixing the mistake. If the discussion they are avoiding is about absenteeism or lateness, the entire team’s productivity may be at risk.

Impact on the Employee

Both the “ideal” and the “not so ideal” employees feel the impact of supervisors avoiding performance discussions. “Ideal” employees want to know how they can do a better job or make a better impact on the team. By avoiding discussions with the ideal employee, the supervisor is having a negative impact on the employee’s career, development and overall job satisfaction. If the employees are “not ideal” , meaning they are poor performers, border on insubordination or are difficult to work with, avoiding these discussions enable the employees to think that what they are doing is okay. They then get very confused when they don’t get a raise or don’t get the promotion for which they applied. They complain to other employees and bring their morale and the morale of others around them down.

What is the best approach to having these discussions?

  1. Prepare – Lay out specifically what the employee needs to do differently and why. Focus on actual behaviors, actions and skills. Stay away from subjective phrases like “be more motivated”,   or vague statements like “Be on time.” Focus on the business problem and not the person or the personality. Supervisors can help change behaviors, actions and skills but they cannot change people.
  2. Create an Action Plan for the Conversation – Consider how to start, manage and end the dialogue and how the employee might react. Plan to state the purpose of the discussion in a neutral, non-threatening way. Plan to ask questions (see #3 below) to get to the root of the problem so you don’t make assumptions about behavior or performance. (another common mistake) Write out specific feedback on what the employee does well and what the employee needs to do differently to get different results. Ensure the language in the feedback is positive and motivating. Consider what the employee’s next steps might be after the discussion. This focus on the discussion from beginning to end will provide clarity and structure which makes the conversation less difficult.
  3. Plan to Learn – Supervisors don’t need to have all the answers to fix a performance problem. Let employees talk and share what they think they need to do and how they think they can change. Ask questions and learn from the employees. They are the greatest resource in changing to improve performance.
  4. Keep Emotions in Check – Focus on the business issue not on how the employee might “annoy” you. Keep emotions out of the conversation and focus on facts.


Taking the four steps above can help supervisors approach discussions confidently and positively which will drive positive business results.