If you ask my staff if I hold everyone accountable for their responsibilities, they would give you an absolute, “yes.” But the truth is that I hate, and have in the past, avoided hard conversations. It isn’t that I can’t handle not being liked, though I think that is the most common reason people avoid tough talks. In fact, I don’t mind that part at all. The hang up that I have is the fear of crushing the person that I am correcting.

I have come to peace with addressing actions that my employees make though asking myself the same four questions each time I need to address an error:

1) Should I have done something differently to help this person?

This is something quite different from, “could I have done something different?” We can always look back and see that there was a different approach to supporting our team, but I want to know if the decision I made was the reasonable one in the moment that I made it. If I should have had a different approach, this does not absolve the person with which I need to talk from being responsible. What it means is that I am open, without providing an excuse, about my failure when I talk with them

2) Do I know the motivation that led to the failure?

I do not believe in assigning motive without reason. I do, however, think that it is justified to assign motive if there has been a pattern demonstrated in the past. What I mean is, if someone commonly disregards instructions, then that person loses the excuse of forgetting. Regardless of the motivations that drove the mistakes of my staff member, I need to provide them with the opportunity to explain the thinking that guided them.

3) Am I prepared to enter the conversation with an open mind?

I think that it is easy to have made up your mind before talking out the situation with those involved. This is a critical error. You have to approach every conversation with a desire to listen. If I am not prepared to hear from the other voice in the room, then I do not need to have the conversation until I am.

4) How can I understand this conversation as a growth opportunity for my team member?

Getting on to people for a job poorly done is of little value. It will create almost no return in productivity, but it will do a great deal to increase hospitality. I need to prepare my mind to see the conversation as an additive opportunity for the employee. Even if, in the worst case, I am terminating an employee, I need to frame the conversation as a benefit for them in my mind. In order to accomplish this extreme example, I have found it useful to use their actions as a cry for help, a desire to leave the team. This works best if you have made every, honest effort to help that person.

These ideas are my application and synthesis of my learning from Leadership and Self-Deception.