5 of the Most Difficult Conversations You’ll Have at Work

No manager enjoys difficult conversations but they are part and parcel of managing people. There’s no blueprint for having successful difficult conversations in every situation, but there are things you can do to make difficult conversations go much more smoothly. Here’s my podcast on 5 of the most difficult conversations you’ll have at work and how to navigate them.  

Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor and in today’s podcast, I want to talk about some of the most difficult conversations you’ll have at work and how to navigate them.  

When you’re a manager, having difficult conversations comes with the territory. They are certainly not a part of the job that you look forward to, but avoid having them at your peril.  

If you let issues fester, it can harm team morale, engagement, and performance, and ultimately, the health and profitability of the business.  

There’s no one ‘best way’ to deal with every difficult conversation that comes up, but in this podcast, I want to talk about some of the most common conversations that you’ll probably have to have in your career and how to deal with them.  

So, the first difficult conversation you might have to have is dealing with a bully in the office.

Maybe a team member or even a few people have come to you to complain about the same person. This could be a ‘personality clash’ but don’t be quick to dismiss it as ‘just one of those things’ to avoid dealing with it.  

Bullying in the workplace is a serious matter and it can take its toll on people’s physical and mental health, as well as creating divisions in the workplace that affect performance and productivity.  

If possible, try to deal with the situation before the person alleging the bullying has raised a formal grievance. Meet with the person who is the subject of the complaint but avoid accusing them of anything or even using the word bullying, as this can escalate things and make it seem personal. Say that an issue has been brought to your attention but that you’d like to get their perspective on whether there’s a problem. Make it clear that you are willing to work with them to get to the bottom of what’s going on.  

The next difficult situation, which you might have had to deal with in recent times, is telling someone they are being made redundant.

Yes, you’re a manager and you have to do what has to be done, but you’re also a human being, and delivering news like this can be one of the hardest things you have to do, especially if you have a small, close-knit team who are like family.  

The thing you need to do is acknowledge that however you deliver it, it’s going to be difficult, but you can still do it with honesty and empathy.  

Offer support like helping them update their CV or giving them a letter of recommendation for other opportunities, and be prepared for your team member to be upset and/or angry. Having a glass of water and some tissues on hand might seem like a small thing, but it can help to cater for the practicalities of the situation.  

The next type of difficult conversation you will probably deal with in your time as a manager is the interpersonal issue.

These kinds of things don’t seem like a big issue, but they will cause problems for the team and the business if they are left flying under the radar.  

You might have an issue where there have been complaints about a team member having body odour, for example. This is not an easy topic of conversation, but ultimately, acting with honesty and integrity, and bringing it up in a way that is not likely to cause huge offence, is a job for you as a skilful people manager.  

Be honest, and have a conversation with the person in question. Tell them that you’ve thought a lot about whether you wanted to bring the issue up at all and ask if you can be honest with them. Tactfully explain that you’ve noticed that they may have a problem with perspiration and say that you’ve brought it to their attention to help them avoid any embarrassment. Don’t make the conversation public knowledge, deal with it discreetly and professionally so that you don’t lose the person’s trust.  

Another thing you might have an issue with is team members not sticking to the dress code. Policing what people wear might seem like a minefield, but make sure that everyone is aware of the company dress code, and if you have to talk to an individual employee, remind them of the dress code and why their attire is not appropriate, for example, open-toed sandals are okay in the summer, but flip flops in the office could be a health and safety issue.  

What about if someone is using bad language in the office? It may be that it’s become a part of the culture somehow, but the bottom line is that it’s not professional and it can offend people and make them feel uncomfortable. As a manager, the way to tackle this kind of situation is to model good behaviour yourself and if you become aware of someone persistently using profane language, ask them if they would express themselves less colourfully.  

Another tough conversation you might have to have is telling someone that their performance isn’t quite up to the mark.

If you avoid having the conversation, the issue can become a lot more serious, and if the person doesn’t realise where they are going wrong, you won’t allow them to improve.  

Your first move should be arranging a one-to-one chat where you give them specific examples of where their performance is falling short, how this is affecting the team, and what improvements you would like to see and by when. Talk about how you can help them, such as by offering them more training and making sure that they are clear on what is expected of them. Book further review meetings to assess whether they are making progress or not.  

The fifth and final conversation is one you might have to have with your boss.

Is their micromanaging driving you mad?

Do they scrutinise everything you do?

Do you wish they would just leave you to get on with your job? 

You need to bite the bullet and ask for a meeting. Explain how you feel and ask if there’s anything you can do to build trust and reassure them that you’re capable of being more autonomous.  

Do you feel like you need some support with having difficult conversations? 

Are people disengaged and is performance suffering?  

You know there are issues that you need to get to the bottom of, and you admit that you’d love some help with knowing how to approach the difficult things, but does the thought of spending money right now make you feel nervous? 

Ask yourself, if you don’t act, what will change for the better? 

Investing in getting some help will transform your team into one that’s more harmonious, better performing, more productive, and more profitable. Imagine having a great team who want to work together for the good of the business.  

It’s all possible.  

Book a call to arrange a call.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and I’ll see you next time. 

This is The People Mentor, signing out.  

Leave a comment