• Startup
  • Payroll/Taxes
  • Human Resources
  • Employee Benefits
  • Business Insurance
  • Compliance
  • Marketing
  • Funding
  • Accounting
  • Management
  • Finance
  • Payment Processing
  • Taxes
  • Overtime
  • Outsourcing
  • Time & Attendance
  • Analytics
  • PEO
  • Outsourcing
  • HCM
  • Hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Recruiting
  • Retirement
  • Group Health
  • Individual Insurance
  • Health Care
  • Employment Law
  • Tax Reform

5 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations at Work

Human Resources

Having difficult conversations is an essential part of being a manager. In the human resources field, tough personnel management issues often come with the territory. Whether you're offering negative performance feedback or talking to a dissatisfied employee, mastering these discussions can make it easier to do your job. Here are five tips to help you navigate challenging professional conversations.


Prepare for the Meeting in Advance

Prepare for a difficult conversation by reviewing the facts and outlining your conversational goals in order to keep focused and drive the conversation forward. Take the time to prepare, develop a case, and get the facts straight prior to the meeting. Establish a list of talking points to be addressed, whether it's a specific incident or performance objectives. A clear game plan helps you stay focused on the primary concerns and minimizes emotional reactions that can derail your effectiveness during tough conversations.

Take the time to prepare, develop a case, and get the facts straight prior to the meeting.

Establish a Clear Conversational Goal

Have a purpose or outcome in mind for your conversation or meeting. For example, if you're dealing with an employee who is under-performing, clearly define what their improved performance needs to look like. Does the employee know the outcome of the meeting and the purpose? What actions does the employee need to do next? What's your communication and check-in plan moving forward? What are the next steps that you will take if performance is not improved? If the conversation gets off track, refocus based on these questions. At the end of the meeting, summarize the key points again and get the employee's acknowledgment to ensure they understand.


Listen, Listen, Listen

Listening is difficult for many managers, and often feel a need to fill the voids in a conversation. "The average person misunderstands, ignores or forgets at least 75% of what they listen to," writes Dr. Rick Bommelje, a professor at Rollins College. Bommelje says, "The costs of poor listening are too high to ignore, including loss of relationships, opportunities, trust, respect, credibility, money, and even loss of life, just to name a few." Spending time listening during tough conversations is critical. If the employee isn't communicating, ask open-ended questions to get him or her to talk. You will get much more value from the meeting from listening, and may uncover issues affecting performance that were not seen before.

The costs of poor listening are too high to ignore, including loss of relationships, opportunities, trust, respect, and credibility just to name a few. Quote by Dr. Rick Bommelje.

Solve the Issue Together

HR managers and employees are not robots. They are human beings with feelings, mortgages, dreams, health concerns, passions, kids in soccer, and other variables that impact their performance. Addressing a performance issue is a chance for everyone in the meeting to look at ways to improve processes, relationships, and performance. This meeting can be a breakthrough for all parties to uncover some fantastic ideas for improving workflow. Take a cooperative approach and look for ways that you can work together with the employee to solve the problem.


Have a System for Documenting Conversations

Sometimes a difficult conversation resolves the issue; in other cases, it's one step in a process that ultimately leads to an employee termination. Therefore, it's important to have a clear policy on how feedback and conversations are documented. Is the information being recorded in the employee's file, or shared via a memo with your company's executives or legal department? When in doubt, consult an employment attorney or HR expert to understand which conversations need to be recorded and in what form. If you need to access that information later, it will be available in a format that could be used to document the termination decision.

Difficult conversations are an everyday part of managing people. Understanding how to stay on message, and appropriately document your toughest conversations all ensure that you'll stay focused and accomplish your objectives.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.