Awhile back, an employee at one of my client firms was becoming a problem. He had been a good employee for most of the two years he’d been with the firm, but then he started frequently calling in sick, and coming in later and later, looking tired and was having a hard time focusing on his work. The owner-advisor talked to him a couple of times, but his behavior didn’t change. Finally, the advisor called me to say he wanted to fire his employee.
I suggested that instead, he try one more approach: what I call “speaking at face value.” Instead of just “talking to the employee,” and pointing out the problem once again, I asked my client to tell the employee how he really felt about the situation, as he did to me on the phone; not in an angry or overly emotional way, but openly and honestly. He agreed to try one more time. So, the advisor asked his employee into his office, and here’s what he said: “I’m angry about your behavior. I’m angry because I care about you, and because you’re letting me down. You have an important role in the success of our firm. And we need to be able to depend on you. Do you want to be undependable? Go home and think about what kind of member of this firm you want to be, tell me tomorrow what you’ve decided.”
The employee responded that he didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay at work—and that he had broken up with his girlfriend and was struggling emotionally, but he wanted to get his life together,and to be a dependable member of the firm. The advisor told him that he was still a little angry, but that he could go back to work. Then the advisor went to lunch, thought about what the employee had said, and came back, to tell him that he wasn’t angry anymore, and was proud of him for staying at work. Now he’s the best employee we’ve ever had at that firm.
Understand that I’m not talking about employers venting their emotions on their employees; just the opposite. I’ve found that the vast majority of owner/employee emotional outbursts are the result of keeping emotions inside coupled with high stress until they finally explode. That never helps anyone. A far better approach is to admit our feelings about a situation and explain why we feel that way. This invites the other person to do the same, and leads to a mutual understanding.