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101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager's Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges
101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager's Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges
101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager's Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges
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101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager's Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges

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About this ebook

101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees provides guidance for managers on how to broach uncomfortable conversations across a wide range of issues.

Inappropriate workplace conduct, lateness, sexually offensive behavior, productivity and communication issues . . . these are just a few of the uncomfortable topics supervisors must sometimes discuss with their employees.

Top human resources author Paul Falcone offers realistic sample dialogues managers can use to facilitate clear, direct interactions with their employees that help sidestep potential awkwardness and meet issues head-on.

This practical, solution-oriented book walks you through some of the most common and most serious employee problems you are likely to encounter.

In 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, Falcone covers topics including:

  • substandard performance reviews,
  • progressive disciplinary warnings and termination meetings,
  • FMLA abuse and ADA accomodations,
  • wage and hour challenges,
  • team turnarounds,
  • compensation conflicts, and more.

This handy guide helps you treat their people with dignity and respect, focusing not just on what to say but also on how to say it. It provides proven techniques you can use to protect yourself and your organizations—and get the very best from your people.

PublisherThomas Nelson
Release dateJun 25, 2019
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Paul Falcone

Paul Falcone is CHRO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills, CA, and he's held senior-level HR positions with Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and City of Hope. He has extensive experience in entertainment, healthcare/biotech, and financial services, including in international, nonprofit, and union environments. Paul is the author of a number of bestselling HarperCollins, AMACOM, and SHRM Books, many of which have been ranked as bestsellers in the categories of human resources management, labor & employment law, business mentoring & coaching, communication in management, and business decision-making and problem-solving. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Turkish. Paul is also a long-term contributor to HR Magazine, a top-rated conference presenter, and an adjunct faculty member in UCLA Extension's School of Business and Management.

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    Book preview

    101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees - Paul Falcone

    © 2009, 2019 Paul Falcone

    All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

    Published by HarperCollins Leadership, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus LLC.

    Scenarios 77, 78, and 79 previously appeared in slightly different form in HR magazine © 2016, 2018 Paul Falcone

    Book design by Elyse Strongin, Neuwirth & Associates.

    978-1-4002-1202-6 (eBook)

    978-1-4002-1201-9 (TP)

    Epub Edition May 2019 9781400212026

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Library of Congress Control Number: 2018966315

    Printed in the United States of America

    19  20  21  22  23  LSC  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

    Ebook Instructions

    In this ebook edition, please use your device’s note-taking function to record your thoughts wherever you see the bracketed instructions [Your Notes]. Use your device’s highlighting function to record your response whenever you are asked to checkmark, circle, underline, or otherwise indicate your answer(s).


    For teaching me to listen openly, judge fairly,

    and always look for the best in others . . .


    Note: The 101 Conversations of the book’s title have increased to 106 for the Second Edition.



    Introduction to the Second Edition


    1. Common Managerial and Supervisory Discussions

    Scenario 1:     Establishing Your Leadership Brand

    Scenario 2:     Mediating Disputes Among Subordinates

    Scenario 3:     Appropriate Responses to Requests to Speak Off the Record

    Scenario 4:     Inheriting an Employee with Disciplinary Problems

    Scenario 5:     Stopping Attitude Problems in Their Tracks

    Scenario 6:     Advice Before a Holiday Party or an Offsite Event

    2. Individual Appearance and Uncomfortable Workplace Dilemmas

    Scenario 7:     Bad Hair Days

    Scenario 8:     Inappropriate Dress

    Scenario 9:     Body Piercing and Body Art

    Scenario 10:   Inappropriate Tattoos

    Scenario 11:   Halitosis (Bad Breath)

    Scenario 12:   Body Odor from Lack of Cleanliness

    Scenario 13:   Body Odor from a Suspected Medical Reason

    3. Cultural and Social Differences

    Scenario 14:   Euphemisms like Honey, Sweetie, and Doll

    Scenario 15:   Speaking Foreign Languages in the Workplace

    Scenario 16:   Inappropriate Displays of Sexually Explicit Material

    Scenario 17:   Lack of Understanding of Multicultural Differences


    4. Performance Transgressions

    Scenario 18:   Lack of Quality, Detail, or Efficiency

    Scenario 19:   Lack of Quantity or Speed

    Scenario 20:   Substandard Customer Satisfaction

    Scenario 21:   Lack of Sales Production

    Scenario 22:   Failure to Follow Through, or Dropping the Ball

    5. Policy and Procedure Violations

    Scenario 23:   Failure to Adhere to Safety Rules

    Scenario 24:   Excessive Personal Telephone Calls

    Scenario 25:   Excessive Time Spent on the Internet

    Scenario 26:   Unauthorized Use of Company Equipment and Facilities

    Scenario 27:   Wage and Hour Challenges—Failure to Adhere to Rest and Meal Periods

    Scenario 28:   Working Unauthorized Overtime

    Scenario 29:   Off-Duty Conduct and Moonlighting

    6. Excessive Absenteeism or Tardiness and FMLA/ADA Issues

    Scenario 30:   Excessive Unscheduled Absence: No-Fault System

    Scenario 31:   Excessive Unscheduled Absence: Excuse-Based System

    Scenario 32:   Patterning Excessive, Unscheduled Absence Around Weekends

    Scenario 33:   Rolling Calendar Year Maneuvers

    Scenario 34:   Excessive Tardiness

    Scenario 35:   Exempt Employees Who Choose to Come and Go as They Please

    Scenario 36:   FMLA Abuse: Failure to Provide Appropriate Medical Documentation

    Scenario 37:   FMLA Abuse: Failure to Follow the Terms of the Medical Certification

    Scenario 38:   FMLA Extension: Engaging in the ADA Interactive Process

    7. Lack of Requisite Skills

    Scenario 39:   Inferior Job Knowledge

    Scenario 40:   Lack of Technical Skills

    Scenario 41:   Inadequate Problem-Solving Skills

    Scenario 42:   Substandard Written Expression

    Scenario 43:   Poor Time Management

    Scenario 44:   Lack of Organization and Neatness


    8. Sexually Offensive Behavior

    Scenario 45:   Foul Language in the Workplace

    Scenario 46:   Email Misuse

    Scenario 47:   Finding Pornography on an Employee’s Computer

    Scenario 48:   Bullying

    Scenario 49:   Discriminatory Comments or Racial Epithets

    Scenario 50:   Leering

    Scenario 51:   Sexual Harassment Findings (Reverse Harassment)

    Scenario 52:   Sexual Harassment and the Talk—Stopping Problematic Behaviors Dead in Their Tracks

    Scenario 53:   Sexual Harassment and Culture Change—Creating a Healthy and Respectful Work Environment (Beyond Training 101!)

    9. Substandard Communication Skills

    Scenario 54:   Gossips, Rumormongers, and Snitches

    Scenario 55:   Whiners and Complainers

    Scenario 56:   Requests for Confidential Conversations from Other Supervisors’ Subordinates

    Scenario 57:   Poor Listening Skills

    Scenario 58:   Failure to Communicate Upward

    10. Personal Style Issues

    Scenario 59:   Suspected Alcoholism or Substance Abuse

    Scenario 60:   Inability to Accept Constructive Criticism

    Scenario 61:   Lack of Sensitivity and Protocol (Email Censuring)

    Scenario 62:   Badgering and Challenging One’s Supervisor

    Scenario 63:   Lack of Teamwork and Relationship-Building Skills

    Scenario 64:   On the Brink of Failure—Turning Around Teams That Are About to Implode

    Scenario 65:   Laziness and Lack of Commitment

    Scenario 66:   Blamers and Excuse Makers

    Scenario 67:   Coworker Jealousy and Employees Who Can’t Let Go of Their Anger

    Scenario 68:   Supremacists—Arrogance and Superior Attitudes

    Scenario 69:   Stubborn Employee Challenges—Entitlement, Resistance to Change, and Overt Defensiveness and Hostility

    11. Leadership Style Challenges and Career Management Obstacles

    Scenario 70:   Unwillingness to Confront Problems Head-On

    Scenario 71:   Staff Motivation Conversations

    Scenario 72:   Protecting Your Company from Legal Liability (Documentation)

    Scenario 73:   Inability to Provide Constructive Criticism

    Scenario 74:   Handling Group Complaints Wisely

    Scenario 75:   Lack of Diversity Awareness

    Scenario 76:   Lack of Leadership—Risk Avoidance Gone Wild

    Scenario 77:   Lack of Leadership—Resetting Expectations when Turnover Becomes a Problem

    Scenario 78:   Lack of Leadership—Failure to Partner Appropriately with Human Resources

    Scenario 79:   Unacceptable Skip-Level Findings for Directors and Above


    12. Corporate (Intentional) Actions

    Scenario 80:   Probationary Termination

    Scenario 81:   Performance Review Bombshells: Surprising Employees with New Information at the Time of the Annual Appraisal

    Scenario 82:   Performance Review Bombshells: When a Meets Expectations Score Is Issued in Error

    Scenario 83:   Correcting for Grade Inflation Across Your Department, Division, or the Entire Company

    Scenario 84:   Administering Disciplinary Warnings

    Scenario 85:   A Final Written Warning as an Alternative to Outright Termination for Senior Managers

    Scenario 86:   Administering Decisionmaking Leaves

    Scenario 87:   Termination for Cause (in Conjunction with Progressive Discipline)

    Scenario 88:   Convincing an Employee to Leave Voluntarily When There Are No Progressive Disciplinary Warnings on File

    Scenario 89:   Negotiating a Separation Package When There Are No Progressive Disciplinary Warnings on File

    13. Corporate (No Fault) Actions

    Scenario 90:   Layoff: Position Elimination—LIFO

    Scenario 91:   Layoff: Position Elimination—Lack of Qualifications

    Scenario 92:   Layoff: Position Elimination—Union Bumping Privileges

    Scenario 93:   Layoff: Position Elimination—Department Closure

    Scenario 94:   Layoff: Position Elimination—Plant Closure (WARN Act)

    Scenario 95:   Follow-Up Discussions with Survivors After Layoffs Occur

    14. Summary Offenses (Immediate Discharge)

    Scenario 96:   Employee Theft

    Scenario 97:   Time Card Fraud

    Scenario 98:   Threats of Violence in the Workplace

    Scenario 99:   Sexual Harassment

    Scenario 100: Insubordination

    15. Special Circumstances

    Scenario 101: Compensation Conflicts—Dealing with Raise Requests Based on Internet Research

    Scenario 102: Compensation Conflicts—No Annual Increase Due to Low Performance Review Score

    Scenario 103: Compensation Conflicts—Denial of a Raise Due to Budget Considerations, Internal Equity Challenges, or Being Red Circled at the Top of the Salary Range

    Scenario 104: Compensation Conflicts—When Employees Inflate Their Worth While Drafting Self-Reviews

    Scenario 105: Terminating Employees Who Are on Investigatory Leave

    Scenario 106: Verbally Accepting an Employee’s Resignation

    Closing Note



    Having tough discussions with your employees will always be one of the most daunting tasks that you’ll face as a manager. As a general rule, the path of least resistance is avoidance, and how many of us haven’t been guilty from time to time of allowing problems to go on, hoping they’d simply fix themselves? If you’ve purchased this book, you’re probably someone who has faced this challenge on a number of occasions throughout your career, but you instinctively know that if you simply had the right verbiage and a strategic game plan in place, you’d be able to address minor problems head-on before they escalated into something far more serious.

    Take comfort, dear reader, in knowing that you’re not alone. And know that this book is designed and structured as a handy guide—and guiding hand—to walk you through some of the most common as well as the most serious employee challenges that you could ever come across in your career. My goal in writing 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees is to be there by your side and walk you through these issues carefully and thoughtfully, all the while protecting you as well as your company from liability or unforeseen consequences.

    Prior to publishing the first edition of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, I wrote a book called 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems: A Guide to Progressive Discipline and Termination. The purpose of that book was to provide managers and corporate leaders with sample documentation to walk them through some of the most challenging minefields that exist in corporate America today: written warnings, workplace due process, and terminations for cause. This book is specifically meant to complement the 101 Sample Write-Ups book, only from the verbal—rather than written—perspective. It will similarly focus not just on what to do but on how to do it, keeping in mind that people are sometimes fickle and difficult to predict.

    The paradigm in 101 Sample Write-Ups is to treat people with dignity and respect at all times, even through the discipline and termination processes. The paradigm focuses on two key areas:

    •Documenting your affirmative efforts at proactively rehabilitating employees and meeting them halfway in terms of fixing the problem at hand

    •Holding employees fully accountable for their actions and shifting the responsibility for improvement away from the company and to the employee, where it rightfully belongs

    This way, if termination is the ultimate result, your documentation will show that those employees actually terminated themselves, despite your responsible efforts at helping them.

    101 Tough Conversations follows those same principles in verbally addressing employee performance and conduct problems. As we all know, if we can address problems verbally and early on, then (in theory at least) there should be little need to move forward with a written warning or a termination for cause. And even when there is a need to move to formal documentation in the form of a written warning or an immediate termination, the record you’ll have created via your verbal counseling or intervention will show that you have handled the matter respectfully, responsibly, and in a timely manner—and those are the key standards of workplace due process and fairness.

    In addition, remember that performance interventions—whether verbal or written—have to be viewed as good faith attempts to encourage employees to change course and alter their behaviors. They’re never supposed to be viewed simply as ways of papering files so that you have documentation on record to justify a dismissal. How many managers using this methodology have been pleasantly surprised by employee turnarounds once a formal intervention has been introduced into the equation!

    Therefore, take heart: This operational field manual will help you skillfully address problematic employee performance and conduct issues in the workplace with a level of confidence and certainty that you might not have had up until now. After all, involved management is all about getting to the truly human concerns at hand, which are issues that may have been left unaddressed for far too long. And it’s only in that mode of positive confrontation that you’ll be able to simultaneously protect your company and allow your employees to take back control of their careers. That’s what enlightened leadership is all about.

    How This Book Is Structured

    101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees is structured in a simple format. Each of the scenarios is followed by a solution section that outlines a sample script that you might choose to employ under those particular circumstances.

    Perhaps the idea of pre-writing a verbal communication sounds insincere or artificial. In fact, having a structured outline on hand to help you through these various scenarios will go a long way in helping you get into the appropriate mindset while remembering the key i