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Having Hard Conversations - Addressing Issues In The Workplace

Even the best employers often must have difficult conversations with their team members.Here are eight key rules to remember when having those conversations.

Eight Important Rules To Remember When Having Hard Conversations In The Workplace

When there is a need to have a hard conversation with an employee, these tips will help to make sure the conversations are effective. Make sure to have the conversation sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to have a productive conversation.

Engaging Is Hard

It's tough to have a difficult conversation with an employee, and even more so when you're not sure how to approach the situation. Leaders are often apprehensive about these types of conversations because they worry that it will go south and the employees will get upset.

Remember that you have other team members to consider. You can’t afford to ignore performance issues or bad behavior. That will soon affect the rest of your team negatively and can create a toxic work environment. In addition, employees or team members only can grow through honest and respectful feedback.

Research The Issue

If you want your meeting to go well, being prepared is key. Gather proof and facts before the meeting instead of coming up with just observations. This way, you can address employees based on evidence rather than hunches. This allows you to feel more confident and keeps the conversation on track and relevant.

One way to keep a good track record of performance discussions is having consistent reviews whether it is yearly or quarterly. Outline your expectations and explain how they are meeting or not meeting those expectations. Doing this will ensure your employees never feel lost or like they don’t know where they stand with you and/or your company.

  • Rules are difficult to establish and maintain if they were never set in the first place, so it is essential to document any conflicts that occur and have specific policies implemented for particular situations.

  • For example, if you have an employee who is chronically late for their shifts, create a clear attendance policy that they must read and sign.

Having clear expectations and an open line of communication will solve a lot of disciplinary issues that may arise. Many times issues happen in the workplace simply because there was a lack of communication surrounding policies and expectations.

Remain A Positive Influence

It is beneficial to approach your meeting with a positive attitude. If you have a negative disposition, your employees will be more likely to react defensively and be argumentative. Give them examples of things they can do to improve the situation rather than just what they are doing wrong; provide them with the tools and resources necessary for success. Consider how you would want to receive information in their position, and pitch your conversation as a "quick chat." If your goal is to develop this individual and help them correct the issue, then keeping things positive might be a way to help them open up and communicate more effectively.

To help jumpstart the conversation, here are some questions you can ask:

  • How is everything going?

  • How do you feel about joining the team?

  • I have a few ideas of what we can do. But would you also like to share any input or ideas on how we can reach that goal?

  • Can I grab a quick minute of your time so that we can talk further about feedback received concerning your behavior/performance?

Confront your questions with a positive attitude to open the lines of communication and have a coaching dialogue. It is important to remember that even when addressing things positively, it is important to not mince words and to always mean what you say. You want your team members to feel like they understood the issue and that they have tools and actionable goals that they can work towards.

Open a conversation with your employee by using data and facts to strengthen your argument. Afterward, end the conversation on a high note so they feel motivated to improve their performance. You want them to leave the meeting feeling accountable for any goals or metrics discussed.

Do Not Let Your Emotions Get The Best Of You

It can be difficult to remain impartial during an emotionally charged meeting, so remember to keep your thoughts and feelings in check. Base the discussion on facts rather than opinions, as this will make it easier to come to a resolution. If emotions begin to flare on either side, politely suggest taking a break and continuing the conversation at another time. If you find yourself in a situation where the team member escalates the situation, don’t be afraid to ask them to leave and that you will call them for further action. These are more rare cases, but it reveals a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, and lets you know they may not be right for your business. Dealing with conflict is hard, but it is necessary for a healthy work environment.

Pick The Best Place For The Meeting

You can choose to conduct the meeting in your office, over coffee, or in a neutral setting. The best setting for this type of conversation depends on the culture of your company.

  • A cup of coffee is not always the best ambassador for a serious matter.

  • If you need to deliver something formal, like counseling or a performance improvement plan, it would be better suited for a meeting room in your office rather than a local coffee shop.

  • Choose an environment that makes everyone feel comfortable and safe.

A Witness Is Needed

You should nearly always have somebody present for a meeting, especially if it deals with policy violations or behavioral issues that might require some type of coaching or disciplinary action.

  • If your on-site HR representative is unable to be there, consider using another manager from the team or an HR liaison as a third party.

  • Another employee should never be involved.

Before the meeting starts, brief your third party about the situation so you're both clear about what each of you needs to do during the discussion.

Consistency Is Key

If you want your company to do well, setting the same performance standards for every employee and holding them accountable is key. This can be done by having continuous check-ins with each member of your team without making anyone feel like they're being put under a microscope.

  • Managers who take the time to prepare for meetings by gathering data and hard evidence are more likely to have their decisions supported by employees, rather than having employees feel like they're being picked on.

Confidentiality Is Crucial

You need to be as discerning as possible when handling employee conflicts. Those not involved in the situation should remain unaware of it.

  • If employees approach you for a confidential conversation, keep that conversation among management, but help them understand that you may have to involve HR or another party if it can’t be dealt with in-house.

  • Depending on what is said, you may have an obligation to take further action or speak with others about the matter.

  • When you have received a complaint from an employee or witness, use the facts to determine what occurred.

  • Keep in mind that there are always three sides to every story: the employee who complained, the accused employee, and the truth.

Management should never be involved with gossip in the workplace. In fact, it is the manager’s job to break up gossip. You want your employees to feel respected and safe at their work. This will help keep employees feeling supported and motivated.


It can be difficult to have hard conversations with employees, but it is essential to the success of your company. Remember to be consistent, professional, and confidential when dealing with these types of situations. By following these eight rules, you can ensure that these conversations are productive and respectful. Healthy communication in the workplace between team members has to be a large focus for a manager or business owner. Even if that communication is hard.


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