Most people do not like having difficult conversations, otherwise they would not be called ‘difficult’ conversations, right? But difficult conversations could also be termed ‘beneficial conversations’ because they quite often have positive outcomes when done correctly.

So, what leads to having a difficult conversation and why do we need to learn how to conduct them effectively?

There are various reasons it may be difficult to have a workplace conversation; maybe providing negative feedback just does not come naturally to you, or perhaps the conversation is with a colleague you have a personal connection to also, or you know that the employee is having difficulties at home and you perceive you are adding to their struggles. Whatever the reason, there are ways to combat the anguish you may face conducting a difficult conversation.

Some keys tips:

  • Take the emotion out of it - use facts only. Do not start with, "I feel bad, but I need to tell you...". Alternate it with, "We are here to discuss your current performance as Team Leader..."
  • Separate any personal and professional relationships – Providing at-work Steve with constructive feedback in the workplace should not affect catching up with football-fan Steve on the weekend. Steve may see this easily, alternatively there are ways to assist Steve.
  • Be clear – no one likes unclear communication that leaves you not knowing what the point of the conversation was. This is not beneficial for the employee because they do not know what needs to change and therefore not good for the organisation because performance does not improve.
  • Know what communication style to use – be willing to be flexible and adapt to the individual and the situation.
  • Practice! With any task, the more you do it the more comfortable you are with it. So do not avoid difficult conversations when they arise, and you may even find that you start to enjoy having conversations.

A difficult conversation conducted effectively allows for two-way feedback to occur to benefit individuals and the organisation. There are various positives to having the conversation to identify:

  • Training gaps for roles.
  • Support required to assist performance.
  • Workplace conflicts that require resolution.
  • Personal issues that may need support.

If you or your team are having difficulties with providing accurate performance feedback or finding yourselves struggling to have open conversations about difficult topics, we can help. One on one discussions or group training packages are available. Just email

Jane McConville

With a passion for strategic thinking, Jane believes ardently in collaborating with clients to solve their problems through specific, tailored, and realistic advice that supports....

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