ROI Business Advisors | Difficult Discussions at Coaching Opportunities
As a team manager, approaching difficult discussions as coaching opportunities to cultivate your employees will benefit them, the team, and the company.
team management, coaching
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Difficult Discussions As Opportunities

Team Manager

Difficult Discussions As Opportunities

Approaching difficult discussions as coaching opportunities to cultivate your employees will benefit them, the team, and the company.

Some discussions between team managers and their team members can be tough, for both of them.  However, to effectively manage and coach a team, they are unavoidable. Here are the steps that will help you transform a tense situation into a coaching opportunity.

Get Confirmation

First, confirm such a talk is needed.  Some managers take action when it is not needed, while others put the talk off longer than they should.  A key question to ask yourself is “will having this discussion benefit the subordinate or not.”  If the answer is yes, you should proceed.  Both your emotions and those of your subordinate may be tested, but once you’ve determined that coaching is needed, it is time to move forward.

Choose the Right Moment

After determining that a talk is needed, give the person notice that you need to speak at some future time.  Telling an under-performing employee on a Friday that you need to talk on Monday morning will likely get them to consider the reasons why, and what they could have done differently to prevent the need for such a meeting.  There have been times when the subordinate came into the meeting after such introspection realizing both what was done (or not done) and how to fix it themselves.

Another advantage to setting a future date is giving yourself a deadline to have the talk, and to give yourself time to prepare.

Be Prepared

Like any other company meeting, you need to thoroughly prepare for the discussion.  Determine an objective and the desired outcome.  Remind yourself that this is discussion between two people with a common goal – getting the subordinate to perform at an acceptable level.  If you thinks it’s a debate or argument you will not end up with your desired result, unless it’s to make them quit.

Find examples of actions and behaviors that need to be improved or changed. The information you share should be as objective as possible, without bias towards their personality or attitude.  Be sure to check your assumptions and that you are stating facts and not opinions.  If providing negative feedback, be prepared for a level of emotion in the response.  After all, no one wants to be told they are not doing well at work.  Everyone’s self-esteem tends to be impacted by their perceived performance at work.

Be Positive

If this person is a valuable member of your team, tell them. Positive reinforcement can have a tremendous affect on the outcome of your conversation and your team results. Share some positive information about their performance, again, making sure it’s true and relevant.  Even if they are not a valued employee, (and the outcome of your discussion will likely be different), you will both benefit from pointing out the positive attributes of their work.

Offer Solutions

Just telling someone they are not doing something well is far less effective than showing them what to change.  Remember, you are their coach and manager to help them do better, not just point out their flaws. Have options and solutions for the problem or behavior.


Your team member will most likely be more anxious than you are about the discussion.  Choose words that are simple and clear, and speak slowly enough that the subordinate will be sure to absorb every word.  Practice your delivery of the message beforehand.  One manager I know practices his words and phrases at least 10 times before the actual meeting.  His theory is that by knowing what he wants to say that well, he can change some of the wording slightly if needed, during the discussion.

Be sure to leave space to listen.  These difficult discussions tend to bring higher emotions, allowing you to hear thoughts, goals, or feelings an employ normally wouldn’t share.  Once when delivering such a talk to a subordinate with a personality conflict (and resulting behaviors) with the manager, the other person told the manager of her longtime dream to be a medical librarian.  As a result, instead of giving her a written warning with intention of firing her, he helped her attain the perfect job for her within the same company.

Have a Follow Up Plan

The discussion, just like other meetings, needs to close with an action plan. Each person needs to know their specific action steps. The manager may need to schedule time to explain some aspect of the job in more detail or conduct some type of training.

Even more importantly, the subordinate should have some type of follow-up to help improve performance.  Never expect improved performance without providing a resource to help the employee.  Sometimes that will be as simple as providing a time where the employee can focus on one aspect of the job without having to focus on other tasks.

Determining the ROI of the time invested in the discussion and the employee can only be done by monitoring on-going progress.  Both of you need to follow-through with everything you’ve agreed to do.


When approaching discussions of performance and behavior with subordinates it can make you as a team manager uncomfortable.  However, following the advise outlined above will likely give you a reputation of a wise and respected leader, for which you, your team, your subordinate, and your company will reap the benefits.


Bob Kamemian, co-founder of ROI Business Advisors, has spent his career helping businesses become stronger, their teams become more effective, and their owners became better at running operations. Clients often move from barely surviving to thriving, many grow over 40% in the first year of working with ROI, and some became multi-million dollar companies.

Learn More About Bob and ROI Advisors