How to Handle Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Employees everywhere dread having a difficult conversation in the workplace. Difficult conversations may be unpleasant and uncomfortable. But they are also unavoidable and can be helpful. The key is to handle them with honesty and dignity. Difficult topics include performance goals, extended periods of working from home, and coworker conflicts. At the same time, difficult conversations help employees decide what matters most to them at work. This blog discusses ways to handle difficult conversations as a manager and leader in the workplace.

Get Yourself Prepared Beforehand

Difficult conversations are not the easiest to have. Before setting up a meeting with an employee, you need to ask yourself why you are planning on conducting the conversation in the first place. One way to do this is to look back at the journey of your employee. Note down all their strengths and weaknesses. Look back at the cause of needing this conversation and where they went wrong. Ask yourself if you had to repeat the same feedback multiple times over for the same mistakes that were being made. Write down situations where you felt they needed to step up their game. This will help you keep the conversation professional and fact-based.

Have a Sense of Timing

There is a time and place to ask for something, including in the workplace. Find an atmosphere that makes everyone comfortable. According to Vantage Circle, going out on a limb and singling out an employee will only worsen the situation. You don’t want to have a hard conversation when the employee is already in a terrible state of mind. Pick a neutral moment where the employee’s mental state is stable and “normal”. The conversation does not necessarily have to happen in the office. It can also happen in a coffee shop to keep it casual and comfortable, or a meeting room to keep the conversation more private.

Manage the Emotions

Emotions are unpredictable. For example, if you’re having a conversation about potentially laying off an employee, it’s obviously not a happy situation. The conversation should be based on fact and logic. Emotions will only dominate the atmosphere and the conversation will lead nowhere. According to Forbes, “when emotions start to take over, remind yourself that the more in control you are, the better you’ll be able to communicate the message.” If the employee does get emotional, have a sense of empathy. Reassure the employee that the purpose of this difficult conversation is to talk through this difficult topic and make sure it doesn’t become a larger issue or problem for the employee.

Understand What They Need

It’s important to remember that employees are human beings who deserve to feel and let out their emotions. The natural reaction to an emotional outburst is to make an attempt to make the other person feel better. However, sometimes you simply need to let the employee feel how they feel. You need to keep in mind that hearing bad news hurts. The employee may feel hurt for the first week. But they will get through their emotions because you handled the conversation with dignity and grace. So, what can you do to be supportive? Ask questions like:

  • What can I do to help you get through this?
  • What’s on your mind right now?
  • What part of this conversation has hit you the hardest?
  • What areas of your work are you struggling the most with?

Questions like the above will allow the employee to not only open up to you but also help build the relationship they have with you in a positive manner.

End The Conversation on a Happy Note

The purpose of a difficult conversation is to help an employee improve their level of performance in the workplace. At the end of it all, you are not only a leader, but you are also a mentor and a coach for the employee. The employee should be able to take away a lesson from the conversation. They need to feel aware that they need to step up their game. No one wants employee issues to remain unaddressed or unresolved at work. One way to prevent this is to directly tell the employee that they need to do better and help them make a strategy or process for doing so. Reassure the employee that you are and will always be there to help them in any way that they need from you. For example, if you are informing an employee that they didn’t get promoted, explain to them the reasons why this is the case and offer solutions as to how they can improve. Once you both are on the same page, create an action plan and help them reach their goal.

Understanding Employee Experience with PxidaEX

Difficult conversations allow you to figure out what matters most to your employees. Rather than doing this manually, PxidaEX is the perfect tool for you to figure this out, quickly and efficiently! Our “What Matters Most” survey templates allow you to receive deep behavioral and cognitive analysis data to learn about your employees’ behavior. Get started with these templates and discover what matters most for your employees today!