How to Handle Difficult Conversations as a Manager

Having difficult conversations with employees is an inevitable, and sometimes uncomfortable, part of management. Whether it’s discussing performance, workplace conflict, behavior issues, or sharing negative feedback, being able to address sensitive issues is an essential part of developing a strong team. How can you prepare for this type of discussion? How can you choose the right words so the exchange goes as smoothly as possible? Here are some helpful tips for making difficult conversations productive and effective. 

Give Advance Notice

One-on-one meetings are a great way to handle difficult conversations but it’s important to keep in mind that good communication is a two-way street. Just as you will have time to prepare for the discussion, giving the other person advance notice allows them to prepare as well. Include a brief talking point so the other person has a heads-up about what you will be discussing and they don’t feel blindsided. 

Focus on Facts, Not Feelings

When preparing for a tough on-on-on conversation, dig deeper and gather as much information as possible about the situation. Try to separate the facts from what you think or feel. Make some notes and bring them with you to the meeting. Having tangible evidence can help keep the focus on facts rather than feelings and emotions. 

Foster a Culture of Trust and Honesty

It is important to cultivate an environment based on trust and mutual respect. This makes it easier for employees to come to you with tough issues. Providing regular feedback and asking for feedback in return helps people feel more comfortable and makes conversations less daunting when they do pop up. When facing a difficult conversation, be open and honest about the issue at hand but also show a willingness to listen to what the other person has to say. 

Be Empathetic

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to be on their end of the conversation. If they start to get emotional, be understanding and reassure them that you are providing this feedback because you want to help them be more successful. If you see they are having a hard time hearing what you are saying, pause and give them a chance to gather their thoughts. Be mindful of the other party and remember that your goal is to find resolution. 

Come Up with a Solution

The entire purpose of the conversation is to offer some sort of resolution. If you don’t have a solution from the beginning, work together to come up with one that you both agree on. Listen to the other person’s ideas and take them into consideration when creating a solution. Once a resolution has been reached, commit to it and make sure there is a concrete action plan moving forward. 


If you are interested in learning more, contact us today at 1-800-501-1245 to request information about training courses from the Management Training Institute as well as other corporate training programs offered through our parent company Bold New Directions.