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The Cost to Be the Boss: Having Hard Conversations at Your Practice

By: Rich Bishop | July 20th, 2021

The Cost to Be the Boss: Having Hard Conversations at Your Practice Blog Feature

Being the boss of your own practice carries a lot of responsibilities. First and foremost, you are responsible for managing an entire staff, and that often requires you to conduct awkward, unpleasant or otherwise hard sorts of conversations.

When it comes to tough conversations, you usually see two main types of managers—those who hate having them and those who love having them. You rarely encounter someone in between. Those who hate having the tough conversations usually feel that way because they dislike confrontation or awkward situations. They may be sensitive to hurting people’s feelings by telling them they are underperforming, which could  make it hard for them to hold staff accountable. On the flip side, those who don’t mind these types of conversations are often the kind of people who enjoy debates and believe in holding people accountable to rules.

No matter which side you fall on, difficult conversations are just “the cost of being the boss,” and they are crucial to running a healthy practice. To help make these sorts of hard conversations a little easier to navigate, this blog will give readers some insight into how to create and implement an action plan for having them.

Why Are Staff Performance Conversations So Hard?

When having conversations related to poor staff performance, things can get difficult for number of reasons:

  • Emotions run high – People don’t like to hear that they’re not doing well at their jobs (and most managers don’t exactly enjoy telling them the bad news). As a result, people can get emotional.
  • Things get personal – Sometimes people misunderstand professional criticism and take it personally. When that happens, feelings get hurt and things can turn ugly.
  • The “Blame Game” starts – Your goal is to improve performance. Unfortunately, many people often feel there are valid reasons for underperforming. While these reasons may be valid in some situations, you still have to uphold accountability.

What NOT to Do

The question seems simple: How do you turn hard conversations into productive ones? The answer, unfortunately, is not so simple. Let’s start with the things you should NOT do, as committing these cardinal sins will do the opposite of what you want and can turn hard conversations into impossible ones:

Assume He/She Had Bad Intentions – Nine times out of ten, a person does not make mistakes on purpose. That’s why they’re called “mistakes.” However, there is nothing that will cause a conversation to turn hostile faster than assuming someone “did it on purpose” when in fact they were just trying to help (even if the outcome was NOT helpful).

Name Calling – This one is a biggie. You should never, ever, ever resort to name calling. This is both unprofessional and counterproductive. You have to separate who a person is at their core from what they do as a profession. Personal attacks do not belong in these conversations.

Using Absolutes – Using absolutist phrases often just distracts from the topic at hand. For example, saying something like “You are never on time” or “You always leave the office earlier than scheduled” is not productive. Instead, reword it to something more flexible that focuses on needs rather than feelings, such as “I really need you to be here on time” or “The practice really benefits from you being here for the entire shift.”

Overly Emotional Words – Words like “I feel” and “I think” have a time and place. This is not it. How you feel should not be the issue in discussion. Instead, the focus should be on the behavior itself and how it affects the practice. Staff members can only control what they do. They certainly can’t control how you feel.

You Do All the Talking – You should probably be listening twice as much as you are talking in these sorts of situations. This is the only way for you to gain the best possible understanding of what is going on. For example, you may have assumptions (possibly wrong ones) about what is happening. And we all know what happens when you assume.

Rely on Hearsay – Playing the “He said/She said” game can be dangerous in a professional setting. Don’t do it. If so-and-so told you that someone did something, you should always investigate the facts before confronting that person.

What You SHOULD Do

Ok, so we have covered what you should NOT do. Now it’s time to take a look at what you SHOULD be doing.

Focus on the Facts – Numbers don’t lie. Stick to what is measurable (not how you feel) and avoid the abovementioned pitfalls. Doing so will allow you to have a much more productive conversation.

Seek First to Understand – There may be clear reasons why your expectations are not being met. Your job in this situation is to figure out what those reasons are. Too often, we want to talk about the problem instead of trying to understand how that problem is occurring and working towards a solution. Remember, this is supposed to be a conversation, NOT an argument. If it turns into an argument, it’s too easy to stop listening and just think about what you are going to say next. Don’t do that.

Consequences Need to Be Established – As a manager of staff, it’s up to you to not only determine what the consequences will be for continued poor performance or bad behavior. But more importantly you have to enforce them! Nothing makes you lose credibility and trust with your staff faster than letting someone get away with missing expectations once consequences have been established! If you let one person slide, what message are you sending to the rest of your staff?

Hard conversations are hard. No doubt about it. But with these tips and tricks, you can make them less awkward and far more productive. Now get out there and have some difficult (but helpful) convos!

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