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A guide to nailing difficult conversations

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

Managers have a lot on their plate, compounded by the fact that complications from the pandemic placed a lot of strain on the role as employees looked to them for support, and the higher-ups expected them to perform.

As revealed by XpertHR’s Key skills for line managers to handle difficult conversations report, there are strategies that managers can use to better cope with the issue of difficult conversations, which are sure to arise for anyone in a leadership positions.

Being a manager comes with plenty of opportunities for difficult conversations to arise. Some examples discussed by XpertHR are:

  • Delivering bad news
  • Providing critical feedback on an employee’s performance
  • Raising an issue of misconduct
  • Raising the issue of an employee’s personal hygiene
  • Addressing a conflict between colleagues
  • Acknowledging that you were wrong, and the employee was right

These are all conversations that most people don’t like to have. However, they sometimes cannot be avoided when operating a business.

The first step towards having a difficult conversation is preparation. XpertHR emphasised the importance of investigation, as you need to be sure you have all the information necessary before diving into a discussion.

Organisation is crucial, as this will help you to be as clear as possible in delivery and allows for a better-executed outcome. Without a well-prepared strategy, the outcome can be affected due to the conversation falling short.

Communication should also be a key consideration in planning. Making sure emotions are left out of the chat and a professional tone is set is critical, said XpertHR. Also, making sure all issues are raised and you’re communicating them in a digestible way will help the employee to understand what’s going on.

Managers should also listen to what the staff member has to say. If you’re speaking to someone and not hearing their side of the matter, you’re less likely to gather goodwill and spark any meaningful change. This is also an opportunity to learn more relevant information about the issue at hand.

XpertHR noted that some managers might be delaying having difficult conversations due to anxiety. Some may even hope the issue resolves itself. This is not the right approach, as problems can compound if ignored and lead to more serious issues that will need to be dealt with in future.

In some instances, an employee may become difficult when being addressed. The report said managers could handle this by:

  • Remaining calm
  • Letting the employee “vent”
  • Remembering the reason for the meeting
  • Remembering the issue which needs to be dealt with
  • Informing the employee that their attitude does not assist the organisation as a whole

After the conversation has concluded, it’s important that managers provide support and reach some level of agreement. Without this, resentment can form, and negative consequences can persist.

To learn more on how to manage difficult conversations, read XpertHr’s full Key skills for line managers to handle difficult conversations report here.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.