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Podcast recap: How to Have Those Tough Conversations


No one likes to have difficult conversations in the workplace – regardless of which side of the desk (or screen) you are sitting on. To many of us, it seems easier to avoid an uncomfortable situation, rather than to address it. Tough talks can leave us feeling anxious, stressed and desperate for a way out (find out why we fear these conversations here). However, these conversations are often the most important ones we can have.

Whether you are addressing an employee’s or team member’s performance, resolving conflict, or communicating tough business decisions, here we outline some tips to help you have those tough conversations.

1) Prepare

Writing thoughts out in advance especially when it comes to constructive feedback is critical. It not only shows the employee how much thought you have put into it, but it also allows you to be clear on why you are having this conversation allowing you to focus on objective (vs judgemental) statements and examples.

Pro tip: Be timely about these conversations. The longer you wait to have these difficult conversations, the more likely you are to lose context surrounding the issue. Give effective feedback in a timely manner.

2) Ditch the assumptions and be respectful

Conversations can be tough when we are dealing with human beings – any misalignment can be a breeding ground for conflict.” – Cindy Gordon, Policygenius

When going into a critical conversation with someone, keep an open mind and ditch your assumptions. Remember that these discussions are a two-way conversation. Maintain a balance in the conversation. Speak calmly and directly and make lots of eye contact and gestures that make it clear that you’re listening and taking on board their perspective. Refrain from interrupting and convey the positive intentions behind your thoughts.

3) Manage your emotions

Even when we want to ‘leave our emotions at the door’, it can be difficult to be nonreactive to negative news. A manager has the responsibility to understand and manage the emotions in the discussion. Stating the obvious very clearly can sometimes be a way to diffuse the nervousness and the focus can be on the actual conversation.

Pro tip: 65% of communication is conveyed via non verbal cues. Be aware of your tone of voice, body language, and gestures when you have the tough conversations.

4) Establish a culture of feedback in your workplace

It’s important to create an environment that is physiologically safe for colleagues to share their thoughts and we need to provide enough tools, frameworks, and a common language for effective communication and feedback. – Cindy Gordon, Policygenius

Having a good feedback culture and established frameworks can help managers and employees approach workplace conversations. By establishing regular and frequent feedback exchanges, employees develop a growth mindset. Hence, having those tough conversations when the time comes will be easier for both parties involved.

Pro tip: Feedback conversations should be frequent enough that there shouldn’t be any surprises when it comes to performance conversations. If there is, there have not been enough feedback exchanges between the manager and employee. Document all feedback conversations with continuous,360 feedback tool.

Any more tips when it comes to tough conversations? Let us know!

Make sure to check out the full Working with People Podcast Episode 12 – we interview Cindy Gordon from Policygenius who gives some great advice on how to have those tough conversations.

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