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The Three Key Principles of a One-to-One Conversation

There can only ever be one reason for holding a "difficult" conversation with one of your team, and that is when there is a problem with their performance. It doesn't matter whether the reason lies at home or at work. If their performance drops below what they are capable of and what you can reasonably expect, then you, as manager, must ride to the rescue. Here are 3 rules to follow when planning and carrying out a performance-related conversation.

1. Don't Go Off Half-Cock on Your Own

It's very tempting to carry out a heart-to-heart informally on your own making up your own rules as you go along. Don't. That way spells disaster for you and your team member. If your organisation has a policy on counselling, then find out what it says and follow it. It's your shield if anything goes wrong. If you have no written policy, talk to your HR team to clarify the guidelines and grey areas. If you have no policy and no HR team, get help from an outside professional body that you trust. Better still, get trained.

2. You Always Wear Your Manager's Hat

Some managers think that a heart-to-heart chat is a good way to show their softer caring side, your chance to show that we're all one big happy family. It's not. When you plan a heart-to-heart, you have to be as professional as when you are running a top-level negotiation or promoting your company. You need to think everything through. You have to watch what you say, knowing that your team member is likely to relay everything you say not just to their colleagues but to friends and family as well. Plan everything. Where you meet, when you meet, what your aims are, how the chat is to proceed, where you want to end up. Be professional. It shows.

3. It's Always About Performance

Remember what we said at the top? It's all about performance. And that's what should guide you through your heart-to-heart chat. Start by saying something like, "Hillary, I've noticed that you're not getting the results that I know you can get so I thought that we should sit down and talk through how we can get back to where I know you can be." The performance gap is the reason for the chat. The performance gap is what you want to close. And somewhere in the performance gap is where the answer to the problem lies.

If you decide on a heart-to-heart chat, or counselling session, it will have far more significance in your team member's life than yours. You are venturing into territory that most managers don't often go. You owe it to them, yourself and your organisation to do it carefully, respectfully, and professionally.