I had an employee at an old job of mine who thought I was out to get him. I’ve had many “come to Jesus” talks over the course of my career but the one I gave him was simply brutal…brutally honest. Performance wise, he was the worst employee consistently. He might never be at the very bottom of the list but he was constantly in the bottom 10%. Finally, during one of my meetings with him, he asks me a question:
Why do you pick on me?
I paused. I took a breath and realized my initial response wouldn’t work. I was going to answer “What makes you think that?” but it came off as defensive. Plus, I already knew the answer. I was picking on him. What he didn’t understand is my motive. That was the question he was wanting to be answered. So I answered him:
I want you to perform. I don’t want to see you fail nor do I want to hire a new person and go through training and the added expense. The thing I want you to understand that despite me not wanting to do these things, I will go through with them and that all hinges on how you perform. So if you feel that I am picking on you, that is why.
Maybe not the most fantastic answer but the understanding it brought between the employee and myself cemented for me that posturing doesn’t work when dealing with your employees. The defensive answer I was going to give (that I am sure would tempt anyone in the heat of the moment) was the wrong one for the situation. It is a good lesson to learn by practicing conversations with pauses.