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Addressing Employee Performance Problems: 5 Strategies

Having a conversation with an employee to address performance issues can be an unpleasant but necessary part of your job. It is a closed-door moment where you lay out the person’s shortcomings, give them a chance to explain and then agree to a course of action.

In addition to listening to their words, pay close attention to their body language. Those clues are valuable. Here are some ways employees react when in confrontational situations, and how you can respond.

  1. Silence. This worker is plugged into what you’re saying, so don’t mistake him for a dismissive stoic. There’s a good chance he’s afraid to say anything that might provoke some discipline.
    • Your Response: Carefully word your questions and comments to loosen him up. Once you get him to talk, assure him that you’re there to help, not punish.
  2. Tears. You’re dealing with a fragile worker who was likely taken by surprise that she wasn’t up to snuff.
    • Your Response: Be sympathetic, but don’t join the pity party. Back off a bit until she composes herself. Tell her it’s not the end of the world (and certainly not her job), and the two of you are meeting to correct things.
  3. Laughter. Don’t assume he thinks the whole thing is a joke. Often, people let out a nervous giggle as a defense mechanism; he’s scared and concerned.
    • Your Response: Never laugh with him. Remain serious and speak firmly, but don’t overreact to his chuckles. He will stop once he senses your commitment to helping him recognize and correct his ways.
  4. Anger. “Who? Me? You are so wrong.” She is ready to jump out of her seat to defend herself; to let you know the whole meeting is unwarranted and you’re off the mark. She doesn’t feel she’s responsible for the problem you’ve presented.
    • Your Response: Keep your cool, and she’ll tone it down once you firmly explain in detail the problems she’s caused. Focus on facts. With her, you can’t be vague.
  5. Apologies. His eyes are cast down, and he lifts them only to keep saying “I’m sorry.” He appears humble and submissive and is probably hoping that his apologies will get him off the hook.
    • Your Response: Be wary of the sincerity. But as long as he’s agreeing to the problem, focus on the solution and get a commitment from him to cooperate.

Note: You may also want to review the CSQuest article Body Language, Vocal Patterns and Word Choice in Interviews or Conferences.