Stop Saying Tough Conversations

Why are they called “Tough” Conversations?

Why can’t we say “Honest” Conversations?

The word TOUGH already sets a tone that the conversation will NOT be well received. Whether it is uncomfortable for you or for the employee. 

Here’s a story:

The Bad: 

Preparing for the upcoming holiday season, a Store Manager delegated the Holiday Hiring Process to their Assistant Store Manager. Store Manager told the Assistant that they will need to interview and hire new employees within the next few weeks. 

With the business ramping up, the Assistant Store Manager was not able to prioritize interviewing and hiring as “Driving Sales” has always been the main priority. 

Fast forward to two weeks later, the Store Manager decided to follow up with the Assistant Store Manager and identified that they were behind and did not hit their deadline to bring on new hires. 

The Store Manager got extremely upset and frustrated. The Store Manager blamed the Assistant Store Manager for the lack of execution and decided to document them for their lack of performance. The Store Manager did not care to understand what went wrong and stated that the Assistant did not care enough to get it done. 

The Assistant was upset that the Store Manager did not bother to ask them what the hurdles were or figure out a solution to move past this. They felt like the Store Manager did not care enough to hear them out.

Frustrated and hurt, the Assistant decided to call the District Manager.

During the call with the District Manager, the Assistant expressed their concerns that they felt the Store Manager was out to get them and fire them. The Assistant was extremely discouraged and did not know how to deal with this situation.

The Good:

The District Manager decided to drive to the store to have a sit-down conversation with the Assistant Store Manager.

The District Manager took the Assistant out of the store and decided to have the conversation at the food court. 

Before the Assistant could start, the District Manager stated “I understand how you must be feeling right now. If I was in your situation, I would be frustrated, angry and fed up. Are you feeling these emotions right now?

The Assistant was taken aback that the District Manager agreed with how they were feeling. 

The Assistant then responded stating that they appreciated that the District Manager understood where they were coming from. Then they continued to open up and stated that they understood where they went wrong with not hiring any new hires. They understood that hiring new hires was crucial to the upcoming holiday season and being behind is a huge burden on the store. The Assistant Store Manager stated that they wish they can go back in time and figure out a different way to get it done, or even ask for help. 

As you read this story, I am sure you have experienced similar situations like this. 

So what can you do differently to change the outcome?


Here is what we have to say: 

  1. Check your emotions
    1. Ensure you are not upset, angry when you are trying to have a productive conversation
    3. Are you creating an environment where “learning” mode is accepted?

TIP: If you are emotional, communicate to the employee that you would like to have a conversation with them a bit later. Being honest with your employee and scheduling it for a bit later will allow you to calm yourself down and collect your thoughts.

  1. Right Mindset
    1. Honest conversations are meant for the employee to improve
    2. Honest conversations are meant for the employee to grow

TIP: Ask yourself- Do you have your employee’s best interest at heart?

Do you want them to get better? 

  1. Openness/Body Language
    1. If you START uncomfortable and self-protective- the employee will match that energy- you will each leave the conversation frustrated with the other person. 
    2. Body language goes a long way. Be aware of your facial expressions and how you are sitting/standing. Are you crossing your arms in defense mode? Are you pointing at THEM in “accuse mode”?

TIP: Have an OPEN MIND- Do not go into the conversation trying to get your point across. This is a partnership. You have to practice being an ACTIVE LISTENER. Listen to understand not to respond.

  1. Inviting Employee into Problem Solving Process
    1. What do you think we can do to improve here?
    2. What steps can we take? When? How?

TIP: Having your employee partner with you in the process EMPOWERS them to improve

Having “Honest” Conversations are crucial to the business. As stated in the previous podcasts, creating a safe environment for your employees is the #1 thing that needs to take place prior to even having a conversation. 

If you ever feel like you can not do it alone, partner with your Supervisor to ensure it is taken the correct way.

It is okay to not be the best at it! 

Podcast Inspired by Harvard Business Review Article: “How to Give Tough Feedback That Helps People Grow” by Monique Valcour

Article Link:
Monique Valcour is an executive coach, keynote speaker, and management professor. She helps clients create and sustain fulfilling and high-performance jobs, careers, workplaces, and lives. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevalcour.

Transcript (auto-generated from our hosting platform; may not be accurate)

retail is crazy. Your leadership doesn’t have to be. This is crazy. F in retail with Brennan and Alice.


Welcome to another episode of Crazy Fucking Retail. The Podcast. Today’s episode is a fun one. It’s actually one that ah listener requested. So, Angelica, this one’s for you. Gonna talk about how to provide tough feedback. Alice, do you want to kick it off? I think you have a story to tell.


Yes, I do. Before I start off with the story. When I cool this article and we read the title, A few questions pop into my head. And why is it that always set the expectation of, say, well, tough being back? And when I think you know, when you hear the word tough, it sounds aggressive. It sounds negative. So insensitive. Tuffy back. Why can’t we say constructive feedback or critical feedback? And I think it would just set a different tone when you’re having a conversation with an employee. So sometimes there as an area manager, I feel like I have to play the neutral zone to really deep dive us to what is the problem, and usually, it comes down to the feedback that’s provided. So a few years back I had a, um, assistant manager that was newly transferred into a location, this employee Waas doing well but struggling in a lot of different aspects of the business where they didn’t want to hear that thing. We’re doing a good job because they assumed they were very good at their job and they were good at everything. So one day this employee was delegated Thio hire some employees, but the business of the store got really, really, really busy. This employee wasn’t able to get the hiring done because the store was very busy. Then, a few days later, the store manager got really, really, really upset stating, We need more people. You chose not to do it. I am very upset with you. This is ridiculous than documented this employee for not hiring, but the store got busy, you know, as you and I both know, the retail world, we could never, um, expect what’s gonna happen and retell. You could plan all you want, but sometimes you get a massive rush. You can’t get to it. The store is annihilated like Oh my God, there’s so many conflicting priorities, but the store manager didn’t understand that. So the sermon got really frustrated that I wrote up the documentation and made that in. Please sign it. Later, down the road, I, as the area manager, received a phone call from this assistant manager stating that they were frustrated. They were very, very upset. Um, I was told to do something, and but the story got really busy, so I prioritize sales first. All right, I know that it’s still very important to hire people, but I don’t understand why I’m in trouble. I’m very frustrated. I don’t wanna work here anymore. I feel like the store manager is out to get me. So then I decided to drive to the store, been hobbled, one on one conversation with this assistant and try to deep dive into why this occurred. So before this employee said anything, I sat him down. It was in the food court. We sat down and I said, Hey, I understand how you must be feeling right now. I know you’re trying your hardest. I know that in the retail world we talk about sales number one, so I understand where your mind went, and it’s already been ingrained in our heads that sales number one a retail. So everything kind of fell to the wayside. So I understand you’re frustrated, and this is why I’m here to have a conversation with you. So then the assistant mantle was kind of taken aback because they didn’t expect Meet us come into that conversation thinking that way, you know, I’m sure they expected. Well, my area manager, sir. Crap, I’m getting fired. Why is she coming all the way here to have a one on one with me? But this employee was taken aback because I understood where they were coming from and wanted to help them resolve the situation. So during this process and during that conversation, we just talked about what went wrong. You know, we identified what got in the way how they could have prioritized and then what that employee wanted to do next time. If this happens again, as you guys could listen in the story the way I approached it and the way the store manager approach, it was completely different. It’s not the Sir. Marriage is full that they were upset because I get it. Things need to get done, but sometimes we have to go about it the right way. So, Brennan, I know as I’m telling this story, I’m sure you could remember a lot of those tough conversations that you’ve had in the past, how some of them went really well and or where it went really bad. Have you had any experiences like that woman?


Yeah, of course. I think that they make a lot of great points there. Um, I’m curious, though, So let’s talk a little bit. About what? Because, you know, I think you said in the beginning that conversation. It’s easy as the D. M. To come in as the neutral party, right, and kind of support both directions. What feedback did you give that store manager? And I guess let’s role play that again. Like, how could the store manager have done a different done something different?


I think the first thing is if you’re upset, maybe you shouldn’t have that conversation right then and there. I think the emotion piece is human nature, and when we see something not done to your expectations, things that get done now you have trust issues. Now you’re instantly upset. You can’t be upset when you’re providing feedback to your employees.


So real quick there. I mean, you hit. That is I mean, I would almost say that’s the number one component that makes quote-unquote tough or honest or any kind of feedback go wrong. You should never give feedback when you’re at a heightened emotional state. And I’m sure you’ve done these outlets in the past. And I know I used to. If I felt like that time at the moment wasn’t going to be a good conversation. I’d step out of the store if it was covered, and I walk around the mall, just do a lap, take a breath, figure out exactly what I want to say and get to the root of the problem. So that was the first thing is to evaluate you, I guess. Evaluate your emotional state, right? What’s number two?


I know in the article, it kind of doesn’t state. I’m sure it does, but I’m trying to wrap my brain around it, but you have to ensure that well, we talked about emotions, but number two you have to ensure that you want to make your employees better. You have to come from a good place That is why it’s crucial to make sure you’re not frustrated and angry and emotional because you are full-on attack mode. When you’re in that attack mode, you don’t care about the employees. You don’t want to make them better. You just want to tell him what they didn’t do, you know? But I think you always have to be in a place where you want to make them better.


Wow, absolutely. You know, in my experience, I’ve recently learned to ask two questions. What’s it or and who’s it for? I love that you said Make him better. So what’s it for? Is the reason that you’re having this conversation to berate this employee and make them feel like shit because they didn’t make the higher or is the reason to help them do better next time, maybe understand where they could have prioritized, prioritized better, or plan to better and then do better next time? And then who’s it for? Is it for you to get all these emotions off your chest? Or is it again? Is it for those employees to help them grow? Love that. So we got to check your emotions, identify who the conversations for now, what’s next?


And on the article, it says openness on the part of the feedback giver. So the way I took back is having an open mind. So the emotional state is good, but having the right mindset is good, but also being open to receiving information from the person you’re providing that feedback for too many times. I think we’re always so quick to criticize and tell our employees what they did wrong, that we don’t go into the conversation, maybe thinking maybe we did something wrong and just having an open mind saying Maybe we’re both at full and just figuring a solution together. But having an open mindset is crucial.


Wait. Holy shit. What I heard is you say that empathy is the third component and understanding that you might not be right. I mean, that’s so critical. How many times do we go into feedback? I think you hit it on the last you hit it on a previous episode, or you said it before. Um, listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. And how many times do we go into these conversations? Thes I’m 100% with you. Let’s stop calling them tough conversations because that’s not the attitude you should have. The attitude you should have is that you’re gonna have an honest conversation honest with the team member about the performance and honest with yourself and honest with them around the expectations so it doesn’t have to be tough has such a negative connotation. But going in there to have an honest conversation to better understand where that team member is at spot on. Alice, I love what you’re saying. What else would you tell the manager, or how do you wrap that? So if we were to role-play this again, what would you tell the store manager to do?


One thing I also want to add to the openness portion is not just your mindset, but it also comes down to your body language. If you come in hot and bothered, your whole face is red or say you did walk around, but you’re still upset. Sometimes those nonverbal cues are way lower than what coming out of your mouth. So if you start off aggressive and your body language is showing that you’re employee is going to mimic exactly what you’re doing and then go straight into defense move and self-protective mode. So not just having the right mindset. I think your body language has to go along with it as well.


Nice. So what? I hear this conversation. I’m just trying to visualize this count conversation for the store managers that are listening right now and trying to understand You know what I can do. So obviously pick a time in a place. It depends on the I guess, my recommendation. Alice, you can jump in, but my recommendation will be dependent on depending on the type of conversation that you need to have. Does it need to be scheduled? Right? Do you need to say, Hey, at 2 30 we’re gonna talk about this or is it? Can’t just be impromptu and say, Hey, you know, let’s go, Let’s go. Uh, let’s go to the food court. Let’s take a lap. Let’s walk together. Let’s just talk about some things right? And then I always ask permission. Can I give you some honest feedback? Can you know we need to talk about the hiring process that we need to talk about some things that happened in the store And, you know, we set a goal to make a higher last week. Like, help me understand why, Why someone wasn’t hired and how I can help unit for next time to make sure that we prioritize and do, ah, figure out any solutions that we need to figure out? So what? What, uh, what happened? Tell me and then really going in there to listen and like Like you said before, listen to understand, because if you listen to respond, it’s gonna just be back and forth and become an argument. And then I think this really structure that structure, that the feedback from you is, You know, you kind of just paraphrasing everything back to him and tie in. So what I’m hearing you say is that you got caught up with the sales of the customers or the tasks. Next time I think we talked about delegating more or we talked about asking for help or we talked about You know, if you know you’re not gonna make a go, don’t wait until you don’t tell. The timeline is past like, raise your hand. Speak up. Say you need help. And like Let’s figure this out together. If you don’t have a solution, let’s figure one out together. Does that sound like Does that sound like that? A solution that we just discussed Is that something that you can do? Because next time we’ve got to make sure we hit these results. We’ve got to make sure we have to hit the result of making one or two or three hires. But I hear what you’re saying. Um, but moving forward, we’re gonna do I have your commitment. I mean, what do you think about that conversation just now? Alice,


You know, I’m just listening to you talk and all the other podcasts that we’ve shot before I think of the leveled up leadership, the learn how to delegate portion and hit all those bullet points about setting great expectations being clear on what the desired result will look like. And the boat, the other bullet point was. Creating a safe environment where we create where we give the employees the opportunity to fail and make it a learning opportunity. So that whole safe is where this comes into play. You know, we’re having this conversation with an employee because they didn’t follow your clear directions and the desired result wasn’t there. So you’re going to have a conversation with the employees because they’re not hitting the expectation. But it’s OK, but you’ve got to create that safe environment for your employees for the understand do. I didn’t get it right, and that’s okay to fail. It’s OK to not be the best at everything, but we gotta set that safe zone for our employees to be able to understand what they didn’t do right and the progress from they’re going forward.


Yeah, and let’s be 100% honest here. If you are waiting until crunch time to get something done as a store manager or as anyone, any position. If you’re waiting to crunch time and you put someone in a position and you delegate something off as important is hiring. And you delegate that off to someone that hasn’t been, let’s say, trained or hasn’t been, say, met deadlines like that before or hasn’t figured out that they need to prioritize and manage their time. Shame on us, the store manager. That’s what my responsibility, my response would say. You know, when did they show you in the past that they could execute what you’re asking, going back to save spaces. When have you created that? When have you created a sense of urgency in a safe space? Like you’re not gonna ask a brand new hiring manager to hire all your higher your team for black Friday. But can you ask them to hire your team for Week two in May? That’s when you need to test this stuff. So I think as managers Look, I’ve been in the shoes, I’ve been a store manager, and I know that there are. I mean, you should have be having tough quote-unquote tough conversations or we’ll call them honest conversations every single day. And what I would say there is, that’s how you get good Adam, if you create a culture of honest conversations, if you create a culture of if you


mess up, we’re gonna talk about it. If you drop the ball. You were gonna talk


about it, but guess what? If I drop the ball, I expect you to talk about it with me as well. If you create a culture of honesty and providing direct feedback within your store, you know when it comes time for the really tough conversations. Maybe this is serious stuff you’ve already built up. You’ve already created that culture, so it’s not a surprise. The store manager, the managers that struggle with tough quote-unquote tougher, honest feedback are the ones that don’t provide it on a consistent basis. So, like in your situation, the managers that struggle and have to have to eat, issue, even issue PC ends for that kind of stuff, I’m telling you, I bet that they mean I bet that they’ve struggled in the past with even providing the feedback. Is that consistent with what you saw?


Yes, completely. And I think they take that corrective notice and they hide behind the corrective notice. That’s why in life you and I live, a lot of people feel like corrective notices are documentation to get fired. That is not what it’s used for. And I think it goes back to basically tying in every one of our episodes together, that you as the leader, how the sun set that culture, you have to have the best intentions and wanting to make that employee better. Um, I’ve had leaders in the past where they don’t I want to document somebody because they experienced it and it was so negative. It was so bad that they didn’t want to be that kind of leader and lead people in fear. That’s not what we want. You know that when we give somebody feedback, it’s to make sure they understand. Like, Hey, we want to make you better. It’s okay that you’re not great at it. That’s my job to educate you and help you get better, that we have to have the right mindset and the most genuine intentions. And I think sometimes we forget about that. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been upset even in my I will tell you it was upset like a few weeks ago. I was upset yesterday. These things happen, you know. It’s okay. We’re human. We’re humans. Like the emotion is part of us. When we have high expectations for someone and they don’t need it. You’re just like, Oh, why don’t they just get it and you get all flustered. Maybe you had a bad day. Maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. But it’s human nature. We do it. We do it, But you just gotta check yourself, check yourself and always have the best mindset and the best intentions at heart. Another advice I would probably give my store manager is if you’re upset, be self-aware that you’re upset and you come off terribly. So maybe you tell your employees Hey, I have to talk to you about something. But I’m a little upset right now. Do you mind if I and you talk a little bit later and just be honest and straightforward with it? I would much rather somebody say, Hey, I’m upset. I don’t want to talk right now. Let’s sit down and talk a little bit later because I think if we talk right now, it’s not gonna be constructive.


Absolutely. I think I just think they didn’t talk. That’s it. If you know I’m 100%. If you’re emotional, just don’t have the conversation. Wait. Take five minutes and calm down. Don’t take it personal people are not personally out to get you. That employee did not say I’m not going to hire because I want this person to fail. I want my store manager to fail, so I’m not gonna hire That’s not happening. Take the emotion out of it. But I just can’t stress enough giving honest and tough quote-unquote tough feedback is not, like a once a week or not like a once a month or not just during the merit reviews. Given the feedback is every single day, you should always be given feedback. You’ve gotta ask yourself, I mean, how many times do people call you Alice and say, you know, this person isn’t doing well. Um, I need to hire some more people, and then you ask him and say would do they know. And the answer is, Well, I was gonna tell him the day. Well, that’s on you. If someone’s not doing well, you should probably tell them. And not probably, Of course you should tell him. Do you ever hear that, Alice?


I hear it all the time. Or I hear the excuse of Well, we’re not performing because my team just not performing and yeah, or they just won’t listen. And I think that’s where we fall into where we don’t check ourselves. We’ve hired some of our employees because at one time you thought they were good you thought they were the best person to be a part of your team, that there were gonna be a great attitude team and then all of a sudden, they’re just terrible overnight. That doesn’t happen. It comes back to the fact that we don’t have the right mindset. We chose not to give constructive feedback, critical feedback to make them better. So, you know, when I think of any business that’s failing, I always check myself and I think or not checked myself. But I asked myself, I wonder what the culture is in that location. I wonder if we’re giving honest feedback to make these employees better? You don’t. Most employees don’t just start out saying one stubborn. Listen to this person. They don’t start off that way. Sometimes we just don’t care about where they are. We expect them to be good the moment they walk into the door, and we create toxic employees, and I think it’s because we don’t give them feedback. We don’t care if they get better. You just assume they should be better right away.


I agree with you 1000% and let me just ask you this and This is the point I wanna make for listeners. Alice. How often do you and I give each other honest feedback?


I think a few times a day and we don’t even work for each other. We’re partners. We work together, but we don’t report to each other. And this is every day,


every day, every single day. It’s literally almost every day. And it’s not about Alice trying to tell me I’m wrong. Or are you trying to say, Alice, you’re wrong. It’s about Brennan. You could be better Or Alice, you could be better. The intent. So here’s what I want to challenge our listeners to. D’oh! Step one. You are a manager. More than more than likely. If you’re listening to this podcast, you’re a manager or a leader. You have to be able to give feedback to your draft reports. If you’re not doing that yet, that’s part of your job practice giving it. And if it’s hard to get, have tough conversations, don’t have tough conversations, have positive conversations and then celebrate a win. So hey, hey Talisman. Great job selling that cleaner and then throw a little bit of tough feedback and It’s a great job selling that cleaner. Can I give you some feedback, though? And you didn’t bring the backpack? You know they would have on a backpack to write. So start an intertwining mixture. Pause. Do whatever they call it the What is the positive-negative sandwich? What’s that cliche? Compliment Challenge? Compliment Sandwich. You give him the compliment sandwich. If you can’t be 100% honest at the time, just give him the compliment Compliment sandwich. And then once you get good at doing that, work on just giving honest feedback and just cut through the B S, cut through all the niceties and just be honest, direct and to tell and get to the conversation, Help him improve. And then, after you are great with giving feedback to your direct reports. If you want a level up, try giving feedback to your peers. Hey, Alice, I saw your results last week. What dick like Come on, everybody did great in that K p. I like How can I help you? What what happened, like you should be able to have those conversations with your peers and then, if you want to go a whole another level up, and this is where the to unlock is. This is where the gift is. Figure out how to give. Give feedback up, Manage up. I know this was super quick at the episode, but that’s what I believe you with. What do you What do you got, Alice?


I just want to share one thing with our listeners. As you know, you asked how many times you and I give each other feedback. It is daily, and it’s multiple times a day, and I’m going to tell you, even though I am so open to taking you back, I’m just going to be honest. There’s time from like, ow! That hurt. Oh man, that he hurt my feelings or something of that sort. But it’s okay. You don’t want to be called out, but you have to bounce back because we have the best intentions for each other. It’s not to say you’re a terrible person, is not to say you’re the worst at your job, but sometimes it’s critical to ensuring that re grow leaders and just have your people’s interests at heart for their best interests at heart. And that’s all I have to say. I think this is pretty simple, but it’s one of the hardest things we’d. It’s one of the most difficult things to do that if you’re not comfortable doing it alone, maybe role, play it with your supervisor, not the supervisor under you, but your boss says, You know what? I am a little comfortable doing this. Do you mind if I will play this with you or ask them to join you and say, Am I doing this correctly? So you learn how to do it and you progress from here?


Awesome. So just to recap, take the emotions out of it. Check for the safe space. Safe space. Check your intent. Who’s it for? What’s it for? And then be honest, Did I miss anything


we did? And it’s the last bullet point that sometimes we forget but inviting the employees into the problem. Salt problem-solving process. I know we talked a lot about your mindset on what you’re doing, but at the end of it, for it to progress in a positive way, I think instead of telling the employees exactly what todo I think, you need to partner with your employees and let your employees come up with what they could do next time to improve. I know when I was at school, my professor will go over 1,000,000 different things, but I wouldn’t pay attention. It’ll only 10% of it will hit home. You don’t want to be preaching to your employees all the time, but really challenge your employees to come up with the solution and they will run with because they came up with that game plan and I think that kind of ties it into a bow


boom. All right, but there you go. That’s how you provide honest feedback that helped your team grow until next time. Crazy fucking retail. The podcast.

Voice Over                 

Thank you for listening to another episode of crazy F in retail. Like what you heard today. Subscribe and leave us a review on the podcast platform of your choice.