10 Tips On How To Have Difficult Conversations With Employees

In any business, difficult conversations are bound to come up from time to time. Whether it’s a performance issue or a personal issue, these types of conversations can be delicate and challenging. Here are 10 tips on how to approach and handle difficult conversations with employees:

1. Preparation is key – know what you want to say and how you want to say it

When it comes to having a difficult conversation with an employee, preparation is key. It’s important to know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. This may mean writing down your thoughts beforehand, or even practicing the conversation with a friend or colleague. And while it can be tempting to jump right into the topic at hand, try starting the discussion on a positive note – acknowledge the employee’s strengths or successes – before addressing any areas of improvement or concern.

Additionally, try to stay calm and avoid personal attacks. Remember that the goal is not to simply criticize, but rather, to find a productive solution for both parties. By thinking ahead and approaching the conversation in a positive and professional manner, you increase the likelihood of finding common ground and ultimately reaching a successful resolution.

2. Avoiding difficult conversations will only make them worse in the long run

When it comes to workplace issues, we may often be tempted to sweep tough conversations under the rug and hope they go away. However, avoiding difficult conversations can actually end up making things worse in the long run. Not only does it deny the opportunity for resolution, it may also lead to distrust and resentment from the other party.

It’s important to address problems head-on and have open communication with employees. This allows for a clear understanding of expectations and helps to foster a healthy working environment. It may be uncomfortable in the moment, but having those tough conversations will ultimately benefit everyone involved in the long run.

3. Choose a private setting, where there will be no distractions

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, it’s important to choose a private setting in order to avoid any distractions. This means finding a room where you won’t be interrupted by phone calls or coworkers walking in. It also means being mindful of body language and tone during the conversation, as a raised voice or tense posture can signal to others that there is conflict happening.

By choosing a private setting, you can ensure that your employee feels comfortable speaking openly and honestly about the issue at hand without fear of judgement or interruption. Additionally, it allows for a productive and respectful discussion without the added stress of outside factors. Creating a safe space for these types of conversations is key to maintaining a positive work environment for all employees.

4. Avoid accusatory language or blaming the employee

Constructive criticism is an important part of ensuring workplace success, but it is important to be mindful of the language you use when delivering feedback to an employee. While it may be tempting to use accusatory language or place blame on the individual, this can lead to defensiveness and harder feelings.

Instead, focus on describing specific actions and behaviors that need improvement without placing blame on the person. Providing concrete examples can also help the conversation stay focused on what needs to change instead of escalating into a personal attack.

Remember, it’s about finding a solution and improving job performance, not assigning fault or making the employee feel inadequate. Approach difficult conversations with empathy and understanding, and focus on finding a solution together.

5. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, it can be tempting to use the word “you” – as in “You need to do a better job on this project.” However, using “I” statements can actually improve communication and create a more productive conversation. Instead of placing blame on the other person, using “I” helps to reframe the issue and focus on your own feelings and actions.

For example, instead of saying “You didn’t meet my expectations,” try saying “I feel disappointed that we didn’t meet our goals.” This language shift may also encourage the employee to take ownership of their actions and find solutions. Of course, it’s important to also give specific examples and show empathy during these conversations – but starting with an “I” statement can set a positive tone for finding a solution together.

6. Be prepared for a reaction, good or bad

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, it is important to be prepared for any possible reaction. They may respond positively and acknowledge their mistakes, proactively working to improve their performance. On the other hand, they may react negatively and become defensive or confrontational.

It is important to have a plan in place for either scenario. Remain calm and stay focused on finding a resolution rather than getting caught up in emotions. If necessary, involve HR or a higher-up in the company to help mediate the situation. Remember that there may be underlying issues causing the employee’s behavior, so try to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding.

By coming prepared with a plan and an open mindset, you can efficiently handle any reaction that may occur during the difficult conversation.

7. Explain your reasoning for wanting to have the conversation

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, it is important to explain the reasoning behind why the conversation needs to take place. First of all, this shows respect for the individual and their time. It also allows them to understand the purpose and potential outcome of the conversation, giving them a sense of control and agency in the situation.

Additionally, explaining your reasoning can help reduce defensiveness and clarify potential misunderstandings. By being transparent about why the conversation needs to happen, both parties can work towards finding a productive solution and moving forward in a positive manner.

8. Explain your concerns and expectations clearly

When it comes time to have a difficult conversation with an employee, it is important to approach the situation with clear expectations and concerns. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and improves the likelihood of finding a resolution.

Before beginning the conversation, take some time to reflect on your own emotions and come up with specific examples of behavior or actions that you wish to address. Then, communicate these concerns in a direct but respectful manner during the conversation.

Additionally, make sure to outline any potential disciplinary actions or changes that may occur as a result of the conversation. By clearly expressing your expectations and concerns, you can have a productive dialogue with the employee and work towards finding a solution.

9. Listen attentively and without interruption

In any workplace, difficult conversations are bound to occur. When dealing with a difficult conversation with an employee, it is important to listen attentively and without interruption. Allowing the other person to fully express their thoughts and feelings shows respect and can give them a sense of being heard. It also gives you a chance to gather all the information before responding or making a decision. Interrupting not only disrupts the flow of the conversation, but it can make the other person feel invalidated or silenced.

By actively listening, you create a safe environment for open communication and problem-solving. Remember, effective communication is key in any successful relationship, so be sure to listen attentively and without interruption during difficult conversations with employees.

10. Stay calm and professional throughout the entire conversation

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, it’s important to stay calm and professional throughout the entire conversation. Losing your cool can only escalate the situation, making it harder to resolve any issues at hand. Instead, focus on remaining calm and collected, even if the employee becomes upset or defensive.

Use a respectful tone and try to maintain open body language, such as uncrossed arms and maintaining eye contact. By keeping your emotions in check, you can more effectively communicate expectations and address any concerns in a productive manner. It may be tempting to respond with anger or frustration, but staying calm and professional will ultimately lead to a better outcome for everyone involved.

Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of any business. However, with the right preparation and approach, these conversations can be productive and helpful for all involved. By following the tips we’ve outlined in this blog post, you can create a safe space for difficult conversations to happen, without fear of judgement or retribution. What difficult conversation will you tackle next?