Thursday, 24 October 2019 23:12

Holding Difficult Conversations

When we are asked by a client to intervene in an employee related issue, very often we find that the matter could have been avoided if the employee’s manager or supervisor was better at holding difficult conversations. We understand. Difficult conversations are often avoided because by their very nature, they are likely to involve conflict; and conflict is something that the vast majority of us at least, will try very hard to avoid.

Embarrassment can also be a reason why issues are avoided or ignored. We may be embarrassed about what we have to say, or be fearful that we may become embarrassed if the conversation takes a turn in a direction that we are not prepared for or don’t have the answers to.

In the workplace, the reasons for why a manager might need to have a difficult conversation with an employee could be to discipline or reprimand them. This could be, for poor work standards, bad time keeping, absence or a mistake that has affected the business. Equally there may be behavioural issues that need to be addressed; and sometimes a word about personal hygiene.

No-one really likes to give bad or unwelcome feedback. When faced with the task of doing so however, we might question what the consequences of not giving it will be. We’ll probably quickly realise that these will be far worse than the temporary discomfort of swallowing hard and just saying what needs to be said.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t consider the recipient’s feelings when having a difficult conversation with them. But by giving appropriate feedback at the right time, employees will know where they stand and issues can be resolved rather than festering and escalating into major problems that then require an intervention from HR Champions.

Here are some top tips for holding difficult conversations, but it’s a complicated subject that really deserves a full day’s workshop, which of course, we can run for you and your managers.

  • Be prepared. Make sure you have as much information as you think you’ll need for your conversation and have a clear idea of the outcome that you are after. Try thinking of a mental flow-chart so you can keep the conversation on the track that you want.
  • Get on with it. Preparation is good but don’t use it as an excuse for procrastination. Better to go in half-cocked than not to go in at all.
  • Make an appointment. Don’t just call an ad-hoc meeting. Pre-arrange a time and date in a suitable, private environment. This will add some formality to the meeting and help to add gravity to your message.
  • Don’t beat around the bush. Be direct and get to the point of your discussion but use open questions to draw out the recipients views. Eg. “We’re meeting today to discuss your sales figures. How do you think you are doing?”
  • Keep emotions in check. Be aware that the subject of your conversation may make emotions run high. Keep you composure at all times and don’t get personal or raise issues that are not relevant to your discussion
  • Find a solution together. Make sure that the outcome is agreed between you and that both parties “buy-into it”. This will avoid resentment and give you a stronger standpoint if the issue arises again.

Congratulations if you’re already comfortable holding difficult conversations, but if you need support or if you think you and your staff would benefit from some training then please call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 1793 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 October 2019 23:29


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

We deliver excellent management and soft skills training suitable for all organisational levels. We are ILM and City & Guild accredited and Ken Blanchard approved.  





We are located in Gloucester in the West of the UK close to the M4 and M5 corridors. For a precise map and directions find us on Google Maps

We have clients all over the UK but predominantly within about an hour's drive time of our offices; in Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Bristol and Swindon & Wiltshire.