No-one likes having difficult work conversations – but as a manager, it’s 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. Regardless, there will inevitably be a time when an error or lapse in judgement are simply too hard to ignore.

Of course, it’s tempting to sweep poor performances under the carpet in the hope it can resolve itself – but if situations are not tackled, bad feelings can fester and a minor concern can escalate into a major problem.

So, instead of trying to avoid those difficult work conversations you’d rather not being having, nip any issues in the bud and use these 8 tips to help you tackle tough conversations with confidence:

Prepare Yourself

Don’t launch into a difficult conversation unprepared. Think carefully beforehand about the key points you want to make and what actions or solutions you are going to propose. Also, take some time beforehand to practice what you’re going to say as this can ensure you cover everything that needs to be discussed.

Ensure Privacy

Identify a place where you can have the conversation in private. Embarrassing an employee by delivering difficult or negative feedback in front of colleagues isn’t fair or appropriate and certainly won’t make for a productive meeting, either.

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, air your concerns and give the chance for the employee to get their own points across.


Remember that this is a conversation and not a one-way diatribe. Give the employee a chance to put their perspective on matters forward as there could be underlying issues you are not aware of that are affecting their behaviour or a genuine explanation behind below-par performance (a lack of specific training, for example). 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 an already difficult work conversation escalates into an argument. Ideally, try to remain as neutral and objective as you can.

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.

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