Difficult Conversations – A tool for managing difficult conversations

Published on 23rd February 2018 in Leadership

Tool for Framing a Difficult Conversation

This tool can be used to address difficult situations or performance issues, such as failure to deliver on a commitment. Before having a difficult conversation, it is important to be clear about the following:

  • What is your purpose for having the conversation?
  • What assumptions are you making about this person’s intentions?
  • What ‘buttons’ (yours) are being pressed?
  • How is your attitude towards the conversation influencing your current approach?
  • What are your needs and fears? What are theirs?
  • How have you contributed to the problem? How have they?

Plan the meeting in advance:

Decide on a location

  • You need to be able to have an open, frank one-to-one conversation in private
  • Face to face is more effective than telephone or email, as the employee can see the matter is being taken seriously

Room layout

  • Sitting opposite someone at a table in front shows formality
  • • Sitting next to someone can be less threatening

Check your policies and procedures

  • • Your internal policies and procedures for handling discipline and grievances or absence should give you a framework for any action you intend to take.

Four Steps to a Successful Outcome

The following is a model adapted from the work of author Judy Ringer.

Observe the Dos and Don’ts of effective listening


√ Use supportive and encouraging gestures, such as nods and smiles
√ Make eye contact: look at the speaker directly without staring
√ Take notes: jot down keywords and use these for later questions
√ Look interested in facing the speaker, altering your facial expression and staying relaxed and calm
√ Ask questions – but try to avoid interrupting.


✘ Modify the message you hear to suit your own view
✘ Be pre-occupied with your own problems
✘  Make up your mind too quickly without hearing the whole story
✘  Become anxious about what you are hearing and over-react
✘  Be prejudicial and listen with a closed mind.


What next?
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