How to Manage Difficult Conversations – 8 Top Tips

No-one likes having ‘difficult’ conversations – but as a manager it is inevitable that at some point an issue will arise that has to be addressed. It may be that an employee’s performance is under par, a project has gone horribly wrong or a crucial meeting has been mishandled.

It’s tempting to sweep poor performance under the carpet – but if situations are not tackled, bad feeling can fester and a minor problem can escalate into a major issue. Use these 8 tips to help you tackle difficult conversations with confidence:

Prepare Yourself

Don’t launch into the conversation unprepared. Think carefully beforehand about the key points you want to make and what actions or solutions you are going to propose.

Ensure Privacy

Identify a place where you can have the conversation in private. It’s not fair or appropriate to deliver difficult feedback in the hearing of other colleagues.

Set the Stage

Make sure you start the conversation in a pleasant and non-confrontational manner. But don’t beat around the bush. After initial pleasantries have been exchanged make sure you get to the point quickly and air your concerns.


Give the employee a chance to put their perspective forward. There could be underlying issues you are not aware of that are affecting their behaviour or a training need behind below-par performance. Listen carefully to what is being said – as well as to what is not being said.

Mind Your Body Language

Make sure your body language is positive. Avoid crossing your arms, maintain eye contact and keep your tone of voice calm. Be aware of the employee’s body language too. It will give you an idea of how well the conversation is going and whether they are being receptive to your message.

Keep Emotions in Check

Try not to raise your voice or lose your temper, even if the other person becomes confrontational. It doesn’t help anyone if the conversation escalates into an argument.

Make Positive Suggestions

Work with the employee to set specific goals for improvements. People are much more likely to buy in to any necessary changes if they feel they are part of them. Make sure people are clear about what is expected and know how to access any support they may need to help them achieve their goals.

Set a Timescale for Review

Set a time frame to review progress so that everyone knows what they are working towards, a tool such a performance management software would help with this process. Depending on the circumstances, you might want to schedule a few informal check-ins, leading up to a more formal review.

For more information about HR systems from Cezanne HR, click here.

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