How To Master Difficult Conversations At Work

By Annabelle Smyth

April 10, 2017   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

difficult conversations at work

It’s safe to say that no one likes workplace confrontation.

However,  avoiding these kinds of interactions at work is practically impossible. Whether you are leading a team, a company or just your own task list, there will be times where you’ll need to face difficult conversations at work.

Fortunately, there are ways to soften the blow and make these types of conversations much less painful. Follow these guidelines for a more positive experience next time you have a less-than-pleasant conversation in the modern workplace.

Don’t Wait

If you have a car, it’s better if you can constantly maintain it. Get it checked regularly so that if any problems do arise, it can be easily fixed.

Unfortunately, most people just wait until something big happens. That’s the only time they’ll start thinking about repair. This approach can mean bigger costs and, in some cases, irreparable damage.

The same can be said with your employees and coworkers. Don’t wait until a big problem occurs. Have weekly or monthly check-ups with them so you know what’s going on.

If you see any problem, fix it immediately. Don’t wait until it becomes a bad habit.


prepare meeting

Before you sit down with someone who may be having an issue, make sure to prepare beforehand. This means gathering information that will be relevant to the conversation.

For instance, if an employee is constantly late to work, make sure they understand the attendance policy. The more information you have, the better. You don’t want to go into a meeting unprepared for the conversation.

Don’t Talk Down

It is extremely important that you don’t talk down to your employee. If you belittle or say hurtful things, nothing will get better and the relationship between the two of you will deteriorate.

The end goal of every meeting should be to come to a mutual understanding and hopefully solve any problems that have arisen. If either party feels like they aren’t valued, nothing will be accomplished.

See Also: Why Criticizing Others Won’t Get Them to Change … and What Will!

Be Objective

When dealing with these tough conversations, it’s hard not to let emotions get involved. However, when emotions are on the table, all objectiveness goes right out the window.

Don’t let your perception of an employee skew how you see him. This can be hard, especially if you have a good personal relationship with him. To remain objective, make sure to address the issue head on, come to a conclusion and move on.

Exercise Confidentiality

be confidential

If an employee comes to you with an issue, respect his privacy. If a specific issue only concerns one employee, leave it in the room where it was discussed. The last thing you want is workplace gossip spreading around.

Offer Suggestions

Presenting the issue objectively is important but don’t leave it there. Make sure you also offer help and suggestions to the struggling employee.

This is much more helpful than just listing reasons why someone isn’t performing well. Offer your help and mentorship if you need to or be a leader and look after your team. Take the initiative to provide your valuable insight and help those around change and achieve their goals.

See Also: Solving Workplace Problems with a Culture of Creativity – 10 Strategies

No one said having difficult conversations at work would be easy. In fact, they can be some of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your career.

Despite this, try and understand the importance of addressing issues and coming up with solutions. If you follow these suggestions, your next difficult meeting will go much more smoothly.

Annabelle Smyth

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