If you tend to avoid confrontation, you’re not alone. A recent study by Bravely reported that 70% of employees avoid difficult conversations with their boss, colleagues, or direct reports. Often, we avoid having tough conversations and hope the issue will resolve itself, but taking this approach can be detrimental to your team and your employees’ development.


As a manager, having these types of conversations comes with the job description. Whether you’re delivering tough internal or external information or giving a not-so-great performance review, having sensitive conversations with employees will never be easy. We have compiled a guide on how to best prepare yourself to make it less uncomfortable for you and your employees. Keep reading to learn more.


Preparing for the Conversation
Create an outline

Make a list of the points you want to make and gather any evidence that supports your feedback. Review these points while thinking about possible reactions or responses your employee might have – anticipating these responses will help you feel more confident and prepared. As you prepare your outline, consider what outcomes you want to achieve so you can effectively steer the conversation and avoid stalling.


Find the right location and time

Receiving criticism with others around can feel embarrassing to your employee, so wait to provide feedback during a one-on-one meeting. Find a location like a private office or meeting room for your conversation. Make sure it’s not close to noisy areas, like the employee breakroom, that might cause distractions or make your employee feel like they’re on display. The idea is to find a neutral location to have an uninterrupted conversation and set aside enough time to adequately provide and receive input.


Determine who else needs to attend

For conversations regarding behavioral issues, policy violations, or anything requiring disciplinary actions, it’s advisable to involve a third party. Your HR representative is always a good person in these situations, but it can also be another manager, either on your team or a team that works closely with yours. Be sure to avoid involving another employee.


During Your Meeting
Be empathetic

One way to guarantee an unsuccessful conversation is to take an accusatory tone or jump to conclusions – this will only cause your employee to become defensive. Instead, approach the conversation seeking to gain understanding: “I’m noticing you’re struggling to meet deadlines lately, is everything OK?” Asking questions will go a long way to making your employee feel like you’re open to hearing their perspective. As you listen, be aware of your emotions, try to stay positive, and mind your body language. Avoid crossing your arms, frowning, and slumping on your chair, as these may give a closed-off, uninterested impression.


Be specific and collaborative

Blanket statements like “You need to improve your performance” will not help your employee understand where they need to improve. Instead, reference your outline and point out specific behaviors you want to address. A great tip is asking your employee how they think they are performing. Not only does this reinforce the idea that you value your employee’s opinion, but it also helps the session turn into a collaborative effort to improve the employee’s progress. The underlying power dynamic between a manager and a direct report can easily make these conversations feel like a scolding. Asking for the employee’s input helps minimize the feeling of “being in trouble.”


Moving Forward
Set a follow-up meeting

Work with your employee to set up a follow-up meeting where you can examine their growth after your conversation. If applicable, you can set goals or milestones for them to meet that you can use to measure their success the next time you meet. Showing interest in your employee’s growth can help them feel more motivated and engaged, thereby improving their performance.


Create a feedback culture

Sometimes, bad situations become worse because we avoid them until they become impossible to ignore. In fact, 53% of employees are handling toxic situations by ignoring them. Creating a company culture with frequent feedback and open conversations, allows you to manage these tougher situations before they get out of hand. Keep in mind that this is a two-way process. Be open to receive feedback as much as give it. Asking your team for input is another way to lead by example.


AlphaStaff’s team of HR experts can help you navigate the complexity of employee relationships. Contact us today to learn what we can do for you and your team.