How to Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

February 10th, 2020 • Blog


Most of us do not like conflict and are challenged in having difficult conversations with our employees. Handling difficult conversations is a learned skill. The key to the conversation is planning and preparation.

Perhaps you need to have the conversation because of a specific incident or there are ongoing concerns. Focusing and knowing the goal is the backbone of the conversation. Is it to motivate? Change behavior? Calibrate expectations?

Start by setting the tone, which includes putting into consideration the time and location of the conversation. Be honest and sincere to your employee, but direct. You are invested in their success and you want to help them to be successful, which is the reason for the conversation. Focus on the details of what is occurring, what is resulting from the situation, and the expected solution. Focus on facts and try to keep your emotions out of the conversation, after all, this conversation is not about you, it is about helping the other person be successful. Then ask for comments and listen. It is important to treat the other person with respect and empathy while listening to ensure you understand any concerns voiced. Perhaps there are things you were previously unaware of which may impact the direction of the conversation outcome. Ultimately, work with the individual on how to meet your expectations, or find a solution to the ongoing concerns, and end the conversation with a mutual understanding of what needs to occur.

These conversations don’t come naturally to most people and can cause some level of anxiety. A wonderful tool is role playing. After you plan the conversation, if possible, role play the scenario with a colleague and have the colleague respond in varying ways. This will give you more confidence in your planning and preparation for when the real conversation occurs.

After the conversation, it is important to reflect on the situation and ask yourself: “What would you do the same or different the next time?” Reflecting on the situation allows you to work on your own techniques to resolve conflicts that will ultimately enrich relationships and make difficult conversations more productive and less challenging. All of your planning, preparation, and good intentions will pay off and having difficult conversations with employees at work will become second nature turning conflict into effective communication.

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