Hints & Tips Blog

How to have that difficult conversation

If you’ve run a business or managed people for any period, at some stage or other, you will have had to have a difficult conversation with an employee or team member. These can be very difficult experiences.

Before having any conversation, it is worth reflecting on the questions below as it will help you to evolve your plan for dealing with the situation you face.

  • How did the situation develop?
  • Is this a capability or conduct issue?
  • What could I have done better during this period?

Once you have reflected on these, you can develop your approach for the difficult conversation ahead. The conversation will be dynamic and so, therefore, scripting what you want to say would probably be inappropriate, but there are some simple preparation tips you can follow.

Here are six simple tips to help you:

  1. Make sure that you are clear about what the issue is and that you have previously been clear in outlining your expectations.
  2. Think through what is the objective of the conversation – think specifically about the desired outcome.
  3. The conversation needs to be two-way. Give them a chance to put their viewpoint – listening is as important as talking in this situation. If you can create a degree of empathy, you are more likely to achieve your ultimate objective.
  4. Expect to have to manage their emotions It is important that you remain calm, measured and most importantly consistent during this process.
  5. Think through how you to plan to preserve the relationship post the conversation.
  6. Look to establish a next step with them before the end of the conversation. This may be a follow-up meeting or a re-confirming of expectations and build in a timescale.

In addition to the meeting itself, the need to have a difficult conversation can be an opportunity to review your management approach. I have found it is often useful to use them as a period of self-reflection and I do this by thinking through the following questions:

  • Am I setting clear objectives for everyone?
  • Am I reviewing these objectives in a timely and appropriate way?
  • Do I understand what motivates individual team members and am I tapping into this?
  • How engaged is the team and is there an opportunity to get them more engaged?

In my experience, every difficult situation and conversation is in fact an opportunity to reflect, re-focus and re-energise – if you approach it in this way, you will see an improvement in both the individual and your approach to performance management. In our business mentoring sessions we often focus on key elements of performance management.

Getting the most out of employees has huge benefits to businesses.


Our team at BHP Consulting have all successfully run businesses, and we understand that every business is unique. Our practical approach to supporting our clients enables us to share our real world experience to positively impact on the performance of your business. To arrange a call or an exploratory face-to-face meeting, please click here.