Difficult conversations

Public news

Honest conversations are critical as they provide an opportunity for you to:

  • resolve workplace conflicts quickly and efficiently
  • lift employee performance and engagement
  • improve relationships within your team

Many people avoid difficult conversations in the workplace because it makes them feel uncomfortable, so they make excuses such as:

  • “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”
  • “Now is not the time”
  • “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes”
  • “I don’t have time”
  • “The problem will fix itself – just give it time”

However, most workplace problems will not go away by themselves. It is much easier to have a calm conversation as soon you start to have concerns about the issue or see the early signs of conflict.

The worse a situation becomes, the harder it can be to manage and resolve it. As a result, people and productivity may be affected.

The best communication strategy at work is to have regular informal one-on-one conversations so that issues can be dealt with as naturally as possible. Be approachable and keep in touch with your staff and your team. If they see that you are accessible and ready to listen, they are also more likely to come to you with problems before they escalate.

Steps for a successful conversation

Step 1 – State the problem

State the problem and provide examples. State the impact that the problem is having on the business.

Step 2 – Listen and question

Put aside your view and let the employee explain their side of the story and motives. Try to understand their point of view.

Step 3 – Acknowledge

Acknowledge the employee’s feelings and view of the situation.Confirm and clarify your understanding of what they have said and validate them where appropriate.

Step 4 – Reassess your position

After the employee has put forward their point of view, it is your turn to clarify your position without minimising theirs. What can you see from your perspective that they’ve missed?

Has your position changed based on the information they provided?

Step 5 – Look for solutions

Work with the employee to develop solutions. Agree on a way forward.

Step 6 – Close the conversation

Clarify and document the agreed actions and next steps.

Thank the employee.

Make sure you keep notes as the conversation progresses. Document any agreement and give a copy to the employee where appropriate. This should include (where relevant):

agreed outcomes with dates and standards

any support or training to be provided to the employee

any consequences if the agreement is breached

Want to know more?

Please contact the MTA’s Workplace Relations Department on 8291 2000 or by clicking here or enroll in our upcoming training “Tough talks” on March 13 9am-12pm, Greenhill Road, Wayville.