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Powerful Negotiation Techniques You Need to Use with Underperforming Employees

By |June 03, 2024

In every workplace, there are moments when employees might find themselves veering off course, whether due to distractions, personal issues, or simply feeling overwhelmed. As a leader, it's crucial to address these situations with empathy, understanding, and effective communication. Let's explore how to gracefully address and encourage distracted or underperforming employees while uncovering the root cause of the issue.

Prepare for the Conversation

Before the meeting, prepare yourself mentally to approach the conversation with Tactical Empathy®. Remind yourself that the goal is to support and guide the employee towards improvement, not to criticize or blame. Realizing and accepting that you or your company may be attacked is a part of the process. Understanding the reason for the attack is key. Remember to go into the conversation with a strong desire to learn. Maintaining a sense of curiosity will enable you to uncover the core of the issue and ensure a more collaborative and successful outcome.

Accusations Audits™ should be used in the beginning of a conversation, before an ask and before giving bad news. Before engaging in a conversation, consider what negative thoughts or assumptions your employee might harbor. These could relate to you, your organization, or the message you are about to deliver. Begin the conversation by openly addressing these potential negatives. For instance, you might say, “You probably think that I don’t fully appreciate all the things you do for our company. This conversation may even feel like an attack.” By acknowledging these negatives, you demonstrate that you understand and respect their feelings, which can build trust and make them more receptive to your message. 

Wrong Fit?

We need to remain open to the possibility that the position may not be the right fit for the employee. “Why out of all the companies in this industry you could have joined, did you choose this one?” Depending on the circumstances, utilizing the Proof of Life may allow us to gauge whether the employee is genuinely interested in growth and success within their current role or the company as a whole. This method helps us understand their level of engagement and commitment, ensuring that we can make informed decisions about their future within the organization. It also gives us a glimpse of their visionof what their purpose is within your company. Their vision will allow you to understand how they perceive their role and may give you insights into some of the roadblocks they are facing in achieving your collaborative goals. Start with a Label, “It sounds like you have a vision for success within this industry?” Remember to use the Quick 2+1™ (labels, mirrors, and dynamic silence) to get a better understanding of their world. Don’t overlook their pain points. Slow down and Label them. Doing so will help the two of you set achievable goals that address both short-term improvement and long-term growth.

Getting Permission

While it might seem counterintuitive for a “boss” to ask for permission to proceed in a discussion, it’s a highly effective strategy. Your goal for the meeting is collaboration and improvement. The best way to foster this environment is by applying the aforementioned Tactical Empathy®. Start with a NO-oriented question™. For example, "Would you be opposed to me laying out some of the challenges we are encountering?" This approach not only respects the employee's perspective, it protects their autonomy, opening the door for a more open and honest dialogue.


Addressing underperformance requires a delicate balance of listening, demonstrated understanding and proactive problem-solving. By applying the principles of Tactical Empathy®, leaders can gracefully navigate these challenging situations while empowering employees to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential. Remember, the goal is not just to fix the problem at hand but to cultivate a culture of continuous improvement, advocacy, and support within the organization.