Why does the dog expose his belly?
We used to have a beagle named Louie. She was dumb and sweet and if I came home to find the contents of the trash can spilled out in the kitchen, she would start by dropping her ears, making those sad hound dog eyes, and then she would roll over over and expose her belly. An action that is as adorable as it sounds.
Why? In my mind, it was to garner love and affection. She had eaten the best leftover nonsense from the trash hours before I came home, and most likely had no idea why I might be agitated. So she would expose her belly to me as if to say, "You seem agitated. Do you want to kick me? Or rub my belly? I'm good either way."
I think about Louie when a critical conversation is coming up. Especially when that conversation is one that is long past its due date and things have spun out of control. Ignoring it will not make the issue disappear, only make it worse. Having the conversation will be like pulling teeth from an injured mama wolf.
My advice: When it comes to getting back on top of critical employee conversations, use the same tactic Louie did. Expose your belly. Be vulnerable.
"We need to talk about X. I know this is a sensitive topic for you. I haven't done my job well by ignoring it. I want to get back on track and I need your help."
That's obviously a weird, fictionalized, way-too-general example, but it illustrates the Louie method. It acknowledges that you both have shortcomings, you take the blame, and you ask for help.
In my experience, using this technique, the injured mama wolf lashes out and fatally injures you less than 1/3 of the time. (nothing's perfect)