How To Have Difficult Conversations with Employees

Here are six steps for how to have tough conversations with employees:
  • Plan ahead. Before having a difficult conversation with an employee, prepare what you’re going to say. …
  • Schedule an appropriate time. …
  • Present the facts. …
  • Listen to the employee. …
  • Develop a plan. …
  • Document the conversation. …
  • Follow up with the employee.

One well-known problem in handling employee-related issues is brushing them under the rug, ignoring them, and hoping they go away. Although that might be a straightforward decision, it is not at all profitable. But ignorance could make things even worse. And it won’t take long for it to have an impact on the atmosphere and productivity at work.

How to Lead Tough Conversations | Adar Cohen | TEDxKeene

How to handle difficult conversations with employees

The following six steps will help you have difficult conversations with staff members:

1. Plan ahead

Prepare your response in advance of a difficult conversation with a worker. To share at your meeting, gather any pertinent information and/or documentation, employee testimonies, and company policies. To stay on topic and include all relevant details, you can also create an outline of your main points. Think about practicing your conversation a few times so you feel more at ease talking about delicate subjects.

2. Schedule an appropriate time

Choose a time for your conversation that won’t interfere with the workers’ schedules. Avoid, for instance, having a difficult conversation before a significant meeting or presentation. Consider holding the meeting at a time that will have the least impact on your team, such as the end of the day or the week, as the employee may find it upsetting.

3. Present the facts

In your meeting, present the facts that support your case. Avoid using ambiguous or subjective language that could cause miscommunication. Show the worker the pertinent, measurable information so there is little room for interpretation.

4. Listen to the employee

Give the worker a chance to respond after you go over the purpose of your meeting and make your case. This gives you knowledge about the problem’s root cause. Be receptive to their viewpoint, pay attention to what they have to say, and ask them to explain any points you don’t fully understand. Other ways to demonstrate to the worker that you are paying attention include the following:

Consider, for instance, a worker who consistently arrives late for work. When you give them a chance to explain, they might say that they have to drop off three kids at three different schools every morning, which can suggest poor time management. Instead of making assumptions about information you are unaware of, this helps you better understand the employee’s situation.

5. Develop a plan

If at all possible, develop an action plan for resolving the issue with the employee. Request input from the worker and ideas for practical steps they can take to manage the issue. For instance, if a worker is at odds with a coworker, ask the worker to suggest ways to end the conflict.

In the case of the above-mentioned tardy employee, you could collaborate to design a new schedule that is more accommodating for the employee, such as moving their start time to a half-hour later and cutting their lunch break down to a half-hour from an hour, enabling them to finish their workday at the same time.

You must adhere to all company policies regarding this plan, including what to include and the timetable. Generally, your plan should include:

6. Document the conversation

As a record of the interaction, it’s crucial to take careful notes during all conversations with employees. This ensures there are no miscommunications. A thorough recap of your conversation keeps the information organized and factual rather than relying on memory. You can add this documentation to the employees HR file.

7. Follow up with the employee

Decide on a time when you will check in with the employee to see how they are interpreting the conversation. You can inquire about how their action plan is going and determine whether they require any additional help or resources. Encourage and support them while emphasizing the significance of finishing the required tasks within the allotted time frame.

Reasons for having difficult conversations with employees

There are many professional circumstances in which you might need to have a difficult conversation with a worker, including:

Tips on handling difficult conversations with employees

The following advice will assist you in handling a challenging conversation with a coworker:

Have the conversation as soon as you can

Avoiding a challenging conversation with a worker could make things worse. So that you can address the problem right away and start working on a solution as soon as possible, minimizing any negative effects on the employee and others, quickly set up a meeting.

Be professional

Maintain professionalism during difficult conversations with employees. It’s crucial to maintain composure and present your arguments using facts rather than your opinion because these discussions can be highly emotional.

Stay positive

Try to present a positive stance when dealing with a delicate or visibly negative subject. You can begin the meeting by highlighting the employee’s strong points. Additionally, you ought to be equipped with potential solutions to demonstrate that there is a way to proceed.

Include human resources

Consider inviting a representative from your company’s HR department to participate in discussions about very serious or delicate subjects. They can attend the meeting as a witness, review company policies, and help with proper documentation.

Keep the meeting confidential

Only divulge to team members who need to know the purpose of your meeting and the conclusions of your conversation. Respect and consideration for the employee are shown by keeping your conversation private. As you are modeling the behavior you want from your team, this level of professionalism can help limit distractions among other employees and reduce workplace gossip.


What are some examples of difficult conversations?

10 Examples of Handling Difficult Conversations with Employees
  • An employee is consistently late. …
  • An employee is underperforming. …
  • An employee is struggling at work due to personal issues.
  • An employee is being inappropriate in the workplace. …
  • An employee is having issues with another employee.

What are the 3 types of difficult conversations?

3 Kinds of Difficult Conversations
  • The “What Happened?” conversation. Usually, there is disagreement regarding what occurred or what ought to take place.
  • The “Feelings” conversation. …
  • The “Identity” conversation.

What types of workplace conversations are difficult?

Difficult conversations at work
  • Delivering news about redundancies.
  • Asking for a promotion or pay rise.
  • Addressing poor performance.
  • Investigating complaints of misconduct.
  • Reporting a grievance such as bullying or inappropriate behaviour.
  • Admitting to mistakes.

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