A Manager’s Guide to Having Tough Conversations In The Workplace

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Tough conversations are an inevitable part of managing a team.  Whether you’re addressing an issue with an individual employee or delivering news that affects the whole team, these conversations can be difficult to navigate.

The key to having a successful tough conversation is preparation. By taking the time to plan what you want to say and how you want to say it, you can increase the chances of a productive conversation achieves; but before we address that, here are a couple of questions that need to be answered.

First thing’s first: What is a tough conversation?

A tough conversation is any difficult or sensitive discussion that you may need to have with an employee or team member. These conversations can be challenging because they often involve topics that are emotionally charged, such as performance issues, conflict resolution, or delivering difficult news.

Why do you need to have them?

Tough conversations are important because they provide an opportunity to address problems head-on and resolve them in a way that is respectful and constructive. By having these conversations, you can improve communication, build trust, and strengthen relationships within your team.

When should you have them?

The best time to have a tough conversation is as soon as possible after the issue arises. This will allow you to address the problem before it has a chance to fester and cause further damage.

How can you prepare for a tough conversation?

There are a few things you can do to prepare for a tough conversation:

  • Define the purpose of the conversation. What do you want to achieve?
  • Choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted.
  • Make sure you have all the facts. Gather information from multiple sources if necessary.
  • Consider how the other person is likely to react. What are their concerns?
  • Plan what you’re going to say. Write down key points or make an outline.
  • Practice delivering your message out loud. This will help you to stay calm and focused during the conversation.

By taking the time to prepare for a tough conversation, you can increase the chances of it being successful, and avoid any issues that may stem from having these conversations.

Navigating Tough Conversations

Tough conversations in the workplace can leave managers feeling like they’re walking on eggshells. Here’s how to navigate them:

Tough conversations are inevitable in the workplace. It’s not uncommon for employees to get into heated arguments, whether it be over a work-related issue or personal matter.

While these situations may seem unpleasant, they can actually be beneficial for your team if handled properly. They can be uncomfortable for everyone involved, especially if you aren’t used to having them or are worried about how others will respond to what you say. In order to make sure that these discussions don’t turn into heated arguments.

Quick tip to make it easy on you and your employee/s:

Be clear about what the conversation is about. The last thing you want is for your employee to be caught off guard by the topic of discussion.

Come prepared with specific examples. This will help to avoid any confusion and make it easier for your employees to understand your concerns.

Focus on the behavior, not the person. It’s important to remember that you’re addressing a behavior, not attacking the person. This will help to keep the conversation calm and constructive.

Avoid making assumptions. We all have a tendency to jump to conclusions, but it’s important to avoid doing this in a tough conversation. If you do, you run the risk of coming across as judgmental or close-minded.

Learn how much information needs to be conveyed before initiating a conversation with a coworker or employee —  this will help reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings later on throughout discussions.

Managing expectations of conversations

Managing the expectations of these tough conversations and knowing what comes after can help avoid any hurt feelings or bruised egos, which can make it easier to have tough conversations without fear of conflict.

It’s also important to be aware of your body language and tone of voice when having these conversations. Avoid crossing your arms or rolling your eyes, as this can make the other person feel defensive. Instead, try to maintain an open and receptive posture. And speaking in a calm and respectful tone will help to diffuse any tension that may be present.

Employees will appreciate it if you’re upfront about the expectations of the conversation. They’ll know what to expect and can prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for the discussion.

It’s also helpful to set a time limit for the conversation. This will help to keep it from dragging on and becoming more difficult than it needs to be.

Finally, be sure to follow up after the conversation. This shows that you’re committed to resolving the issue and helps to build trust between you and your employees.

Keep the team’s performance at the top of the mind

When you’re ready to have the conversation, keep in mind that it’s not about the person. It’s about their behavior, and how it affects your team, project or company. If you approach the conversation as a way to focus on what needs improvement and how they can be successful going forward, rather than focusing on them personally (or worse yet, being negative), your feedback will be more effective.

Your goal is to create an environment where employees feel safe enough to admit when they’ve made mistakes—and know that there’s support available if they need it. To achieve this goal:

Be specific about what needs improvement; don’t just say “you’re not doing a good job.” Try something like “We’ve noticed that lately there have been some problems with [insert issue here]. We’d like for you to work on fixing those issues by [date].” This way, both parties know exactly what is expected from each other by a certain time frame.

Be specific about how you want them to solve or improve this problem or issue; don’t just say “I want more from you!” Instead, try saying something like “Here are some resources we recommend reading for best practices on managing [insert issue here]. Let’s meet again next week so we can discuss how these strategies have worked out for us.” This gives them some direction while also allowing them space and time for reflection before coming back together again so both parties are clear on what changes were made since the last meeting together.

Finally: make sure consequences are clearly stated at end of the meeting (if needed), otherwise, nothing will change.

Tips for having conversations about poor quality work

If you need to have a conversation with an employee about the quality of their work, here are a few tips:

Be specific about what needs to be improved.

Again, it’s important to be specific when addressing problems with an employee’s work. This way, they know exactly what needs to be improved and can take concrete steps to make the necessary changes.

Avoid coming across as judgmental or close-minded.

Try to avoid jumping to conclusions about the reasons for the poor quality of work. There may be extenuating circumstances that you’re not aware of. If you approach the conversation with an open mind, you’ll be more likely to find a resolution that works for both parties.

Manage your own emotions.

It’s important to stay calm during these conversations. If you get too emotional, it’ll be more difficult to have a productive conversation.

Keep the conversation focused on the work, not the person.

Remember that the goal of the conversation is to improve the quality of the work, not to attack the person. This can be a difficult balance to strike, but it’s important to keep in mind if you want the conversation to be successful.

Suggest solutions and resources.

If you have suggestions for how the employee can improve their work, be sure to share them! This shows that you’re invested in helping them succeed.

End with a plan.

Be sure to end the conversation with a clear plan for how the employee can improve their work. This will help to ensure that the conversation was productive and that both parties are on the same page going forward.

Speaking up when you disagree with your employee

If you’re ever in a position where you have to disagree with an employee in front of others, there are a few things you can do to make the conversation more productive.

First, be clear about what you’re disagreeing with. You don’t want to start the conversation by putting the employee on the defensive. Instead, try to focus on the behavior or action that you didn’t agree with. For example, you might say something like, “I noticed that you interrupted me when I was speaking earlier. I’d appreciate it if you could wait until I’m finished before chiming in.”

Second, be respectful and calm. This isn’t a time to get emotional or raise your voice. Instead, try to have a calm and rational discussion about the issue at hand.

Third, be prepared to listen to the employee’s side of the story. They may have a valid reason for why they acted the way they did. If so, try to come to an agreement about how to handle the situation in the future.

Fourth, after you’ve had a chance to talk things through, be clear about what you expect from the employee going forward. This will help ensure that there are no misunderstandings about what was discussed during the conversation.

Finally, follow up after the meeting to make sure that things are progressing as expected. This will show your employees that you’re committed to resolving the issue and working together towards a solution.

Addressing problems creates a better environment

By addressing problems head-on, you can help move work forward and create a positive work environment.

You can’t avoid tough conversations. You will have to address problems head-on, and this is where the most important conversations happen.

You can’t avoid difficult people. With all the personality types in the workplace, there are bound to be some people who rub others the wrong way or are hard for others to work with.

You can’t avoid difficult situations. Sometimes you will find yourself facing an unexpected situation that requires you to make a decision about how to proceed with it. And sometimes those decisions might not be easy ones!

And finally, there’s no avoiding having tough conversations at work either; they’re unavoidable if you want your team members to learn from their mistakes and be successful in their roles as managers or leaders!


In conclusion, I feel that it is important for managers to have tough conversations in the workplace. These conversations can help improve employee morale and productivity.


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