4 Tips for Having the Tough Conversations You Dread as a Manager

Don’t sweat the tough stuff!
Does having tough conversations and providing feedback as a manager instantly make you sweat under the collar? The Management Essentials digital program is an immersive six week program you can do at your own pace, which is specifically designed for managers to uncover confident, competent and compassionate leaders. Learn more about the program here

As a manager, having tough conversations with your employees is often an inevitable and uncomfortable part of the job. Whether it’s disciplinary action, poor performance, or unacceptable behaviour, having to address these issues can be stressful and intimidating. 

Fortunately, there are a few key things you can remember that will help make these tough conversations easier. In this blog post, we’ll discuss four tips for having those difficult conversations you dread as a manager. With these tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared to tackle even the most challenging conversations with ease.

1) Don’t avoid the conversation

When it comes to having tough conversations, it can be all too easy to put them off and pretend like the problem doesn’t exist. However, avoiding conversations will not make them go away – in fact, it can make things worse. As a manager, it is your responsibility to address difficult issues head-on and have honest conversations with your team.

To stop avoiding a conversation, here are three tips: 

  1. Set aside time to talk. You may want to give yourself ample time to prepare for the conversation, and make sure that you are available when it’s time to talk. This will also help ensure that the conversation doesn’t get interrupted.
  2. Don’t overthink it. When preparing for a difficult conversation, you may find yourself overthinking the conversation or worrying about how it will go. It’s important to remember that you are there to communicate and resolve the issue, not to make the other person feel uncomfortable.
  3. Be prepared. Before the conversation takes place, make sure that you have done your research and gathered all of the facts and evidence you need to make your point. This will help you remain calm and professional during the conversation.

For example, let’s say that you are having a conversation with an employee who has been coming in late and leaving early without permission. Before the conversation, take the time to look at your records and gather any evidence that you may need, such as attendance records or emails. 

When the conversation begins, start by laying out the facts and explaining what has been observed. Then, explain the consequences of their behaviour and how it affects the team and company. Finally, allow the employee to explain their side of the story and reach a mutually agreeable solution.

By following these steps, you can approach difficult conversations with confidence and make sure that everyone involved is on the same page. Don’t avoid conversations – have them and move forward!

2) Prepare what you’re going to say

When it comes to having tough conversations, preparation is key. As a manager, you want to make sure that you are clear and concise in your communication so that the conversation can go smoothly. There are a few things you should consider when preparing what you are going to say: 

  1. Establish ground rules: Before any conversation, it’s important to set ground rules for how it will be conducted. This could include agreeing to be respectful to one another, setting time limits for the conversation, or ensuring everyone gets an opportunity to speak. Having these ground rules established beforehand will help ensure that the conversation goes smoothly. 
  2. Make your goals or intentions clear: It’s important to have an objective in mind when you enter into a tough conversation. What do you hope to achieve from this? Are you looking for an apology, an explanation, or a change in behaviour? Making your goals clear ahead of time will help guide the conversation and keep it focused.
  3. Research and prepare: If you know the conversation will involve challenging topics, take some time to research and prepare beforehand. Have any relevant documents on-hand, think through possible questions and answers, and come up with strategies for handling difficult questions. 
  4. Practice: When it comes to tough conversations, practice makes perfect. Try running through the conversation in your head or practice with a friend or colleague. This will help you to gain confidence and make sure that you feel prepared when the time comes for the actual conversation. 

To illustrate the importance of preparation, let’s look at a case study of a manager who had to have a tough conversation with an employee about their performance. This manager was aware of the need for preparation, so they took some time before the conversation to establish ground rules, set their objectives, research relevant documents, and practise what they were going to say. When they finally had the conversation with their employee, it went much smoother than expected and they were able to reach their desired outcome. 

By taking the time to properly prepare before a tough conversation, managers can ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Taking the steps outlined above can help managers build confidence and make sure that they feel prepared for any tough conversations that may come their way.

3) Keep it professional

When it comes to having tough conversations as a manager, it’s important to remain professional at all times. This means being clear and direct about the issue, maintaining your composure, and not letting heated emotions take over. It also means avoiding words or phrases that could be seen as hostile or disrespectful.

First and foremost, avoid personal attacks or insults. Even if the other person is being difficult, stay focused on the topic at hand and address their behaviour in terms of the company policy or standards. Do not let yourself become provoked into a personal exchange.

Secondly, do not make threats or ultimatums. Not only is this a poor management practice, but it can put you in a legally vulnerable position if the other person decides to take legal action. Instead, stick to presenting the facts and the potential consequences for their actions.

Finally, don’t bring up past mistakes or previous issues. This can be seen as an attack and will only further inflame the situation. If there is something that needs to be discussed from the past, keep it brief and relevant to the current conversation.

It’s important to maintain a professional demeanour during tough conversations, as it sets the tone for how both parties interact with each other going forward. If you don’t keep things professional, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation or even face legal action from the other party. Respect and professionalism are key when navigating these difficult conversations.

4) Follow up afterward

As a manager, having tough conversations is unfortunately a part of the job description. And while it can be stressful and uncomfortable to discuss difficult issues with your team members, it’s important to make sure that these conversations don’t end with everyone walking away in silence. 

It’s essential to follow up afterward to ensure that the message was received, that everyone has a clear understanding of the action items and expectations, and that any concerns have been addressed.

Here are some tips for following up after tough conversations:

  1. Ask for feedback. After a tough conversation, make sure you give your team member the opportunity to provide feedback or ask questions. Inviting input from your team members helps ensure that you are both on the same page and working towards the same goals.
  2. Take notes. During the conversation, take notes about what was discussed and what needs to be done going forward. Send these notes to your team member as a follow-up so they have a written record of what was discussed.
  3. Schedule a follow-up meeting. Set up a follow-up meeting in a few days or a week to check-in with your team member and see how they’re doing with their action items. This will give them an opportunity to discuss any issues or questions they may have and it will help ensure that things are going according to plan.
  4. Express appreciation. Make sure to thank your team members for their willingness to listen and work with you to address the issue. Expressing gratitude helps maintain a positive relationship between you and your team, even in difficult circumstances.

Following up after tough conversations is an important part of being a manager. It helps ensure that everyone is on the same page, that expectations are being met, and that relationships remain strong. 

Does having tough conversations and providing feedback as a manager instantly make you sweat under the collar? The Management Essentials digital program is an immersive six week program you can do at your own pace, which is specifically designed for managers to uncover confident, competent and compassionate leaders. Learn more about the program here