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How to have that difficult conversation!

As humans, most of us prefer to shy away from situations that make us feel negative emotions and discomfort, it’s how we are wired. Whether its at home or in the workplace some of us will chose to ignore a problem and do whatever it takes to avoid feeling uncomfortable. In a work scenario this can have quite serious consequences.

Some business leaders are comfortable with having difficult and performance related conversations, but most of us are not. If you are like most, and a Restaurant owner with employees, then there will come a time when you will be faced with this problem and you will need to have that difficult conversation. Unfortunately I’ve had a few of these and while each situation is unique to that particular person & situation, the approach I take is always the same. Here is how I tackle these conversations…

  1. Have the conversation early. As soon as I am aware of a problem I will tackle it straight away. My experience has shown me that if I chose to ignore it, in the hope that it will resolve itself, it won’t. All that happens is that it escalates and what was once something small now builds up and grows into something bigger. I never ignore a problem.

  2. Have all the facts. Be clear on what the problem is and where possible get as much feedback as possible so you have the big picture. Never sit down with somebody based on one person’s feedback for example, without checking out all the facts first. After all you could be wrong!

  3. Prepare for the best case scenario but have a back up plan. I am always clear on my best and worst case scenario going into a performance discussion. Best case is typically to highlight the issue, listen for feedback, agree on change and aim to improve the situation. I never want to lose people, unless its very serious and this is the best case, but more often than not this is not. Sometimes issues can arise because someone has one foot out the door. If this is the case, and they use this discussion as an opportunity to resign, then it is important that you have a back up plan that you can quickly put into place. This can, and has, happened to me in the past.

  4. Be respectful. I always open these discussions with some positive feedback. We all do something well even if we are under performing in other areas of our work. I immediately follow this up with why I am having this conversation and then get straight to the point. I outline my best case scenario and that my goal is to reach this outcome after the discussion.

  5. Seek feedback and let the person state their case. Once I highlight the problem I always ask for their feedback. I will ask questions such as were you aware of this problem or what is your side of the story? How does the feedback I have provided make you feel? What solutions do you propose to fix this? As I’m always prepared, I will also make suggestions on solutions and if necessary will offer support if this is needed.

  6. Be compassionate. We never know what goes on behind closed doors. If this is a personal issue or a health related issue, then compassion needs to be shown and support offered where possible and where appropriate. Each situation is different and some are more complex than others.

  7. Be realistic. If the person you are speaking to does not agree to the feedback given, offers no response other than being defensive or in denial, then ask yourself what is the best way to move forward. Can this person change and if not what will be the repercussions for you, your business and the rest of your team. Will their ongoing employment pose a risk to the restaurant in any way? Once you’ve answered these questions then you need to make a decision on how you proceed.

  8. Put it all in writing. Whatever the outcome, put it in writing immediately after the discussion so you have proof that the conversation did take place. It is also great for you and the employee to have as a reference for any actions that need to happen on either side.

  9. Set a timeframe and a follow up. Agree on a timeframe for changes to happen and a follow up discussion to see how things are progressing. This is important for both sides. If no improvement takes place then you will need to take further action.

It’s not the sexy part of owning a restaurant but it is super important and something every Restaurateur will face at some point. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and tackle the issue quickly so a resolution can be found. Don’t carry the weight of a negative situation around and let it stress you out. Instead be brave and have the difficult conversation. Trust me it will work out best for everyone in the long run!

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