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How to Dramatically Improve Your Conversations with Everyone You Supervise at Work


There is an unspoken topic that can diminish the quality of every conversation you have with the people you supervise – unless you take steps to prevent it.


This topic is . . .


You have made some mistakes and now I am going to tell you about them.


Sometimes this is the unspoken theme at job reviews. Sometimes it is present in brief encounters that take place in the lobby or the elevator. Sometimes it is even more extreme and the person you supervise feels threatened by the possibility that you will fire him or her.


But this unspoken problem doesn’t need to infect your relationships or damage your ability to be a positive leader. Here are steps that I have seen dramatically improve the quality of every interaction between employees and the managers who supervise them.


  • Replace “Let’s see how you’re doing on your to do list” with “What do you feel good about accomplishing since we last talked?” If you follow this advice, you will start out by focusing on positive changes and accomplishments that the workers have made. Next, give positive reinforcement for what they’ve gotten done and let them feel proud of their achievements. Then, move on to any items that are still undone, which you can now discuss in a positive and upbeat way. This approach drains the blame from your meeting and creates positive and motivational conversations.


  • Ask, “Are there areas where you need help?” This is where you can coach and assist employees. Your offer of help prevents them from feeling bad about something that is undone and lets them feel comfortable about getting the help they may need. Be sure to listen for underlying reasons why your employee might not be tackling certain tasks. The issue could be time, meaning they don’t have enough of it to do everything. Perhaps others in the organization could help? It could be that they lack some piece of technology that would help them, the services of a consultant, or possibly something else. By offering assistance, you are helping someone avoid feeling guilty about not being able to get something done. Under the old system of job reviews, people would often feel shamed and want to mislead or try to divert blame from themselves—that is very unhelpful. Having a frank and honest discussion is much more effective.


  • Let the employee set his or her own “to-dos” and priorities. As a supervisor, you will find there will be times when you need to make firm assignments. But as often as you can, allow your employees to set their own priorities and projects, building a sense of ownership and enthusiasm.


And Observe the “Five to One” Rule


This is especially helpful when you are meeting with supervisees who could benefit from an extra dose of positive inspiration. How does it work? For every one thing you say that could be interpreted as criticism, say five things that are positive and encouraging.


Also consider creating a career advancement plan for each employee. Discuss it whenever you meet or have a review. Ask if they have anything they would like to add to the list. You can follow up with questions like, “Why do you think that is important?” and, “How do you plan to tackle it?”


If there’s something you would like them to put on their list that they didn’t already think of, now’s the time to mention it. Most of the time, it is likely the employee has already thought of the new idea you suggest.

About Evan Hackel


Evan Hackel is a 35-year franchising veteran as both a franchisor and a franchisee. He is principal and founder of Ingage Consulting in Woburn, Massachusetts. Evan is also the host of the highly successful Training Unleashed podcasts and author of the book Ingaging Leadership Meets the Younger Generation. Evan is a frequent keynote speaker at franchising expos and other events. For more information, visit and follow him at @ehackel