Management advice from Rebecca Johnson

You may not like difficult conversations, but mastering them can build profits and morale

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of INVISION.


Many offices have one: a personable staff member who lacks attention to detail. When you tell her she’s made a mistake, she seems genuinely sorry and agrees to try harder, but nothing changes.

“If Sheri would only stop talking so much and concentrate on getting the lab order correct!” you think. You like Sheri, but her mistakes mean many remakes, and her actions frustrate patients and colleagues. /p>

You may dread it, but it’s time for a serious talk. Here are some ways to make difficult discussions easier. (You’ll find more in the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.)

1. Don’t have the conversation in the heat of the moment. Take time to think through what is happening and its effects on the business. In our example above, the business is affected in three ways: direct profit, patient satisfaction and employee morale.

2. Consider why the problem is occurring. It’s common for a frustrated manager to create a “story” in his mind about the employee that may not be true. In your frustration, you may decide that the employee is lazy and doesn’t care whether her orders are correct. But most people truly want to do a good job. Instead of seeing a character problem, ask yourself what else could be causing the behavior.

3. Get your facts ready. How much money have the mistakes cost you over the past year? How does Sheri’s mistake ratio compare to her peers? How many times has she promised to “do better”?

4. Remind yourself of the employee’s strong points. In our example, Sheri has a way of keeping everyone laughing even on stressful days. She would be sorely missed if she left the team.

5. Last, do all you can to remove your own emotions. You may feel personally hurt that this person would take advantage of your kindness and patience with her, but an employee’s actions are rarely a personal attack on you.

Finally, take a deep breath before and after the talk. Feel confident that you’re doing the right thing for your business and your employees. And know that these talks get easier with practice!


REBECCA JOHNSON is a 30-year veteran in the eyecare business. She is the executive director of Business Consultative Services for GPN and owner of EyeTrain4You, an ophthalmic staff training and development company. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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