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Challenging conversations and how to manage them

Premier Advocates > Challenging conversations and how to manage them

Challenging conversations and how to manage them

Hopefully you are not greeted every working day deal with the phrases, Excuse me! “What’s happened” “Where do you want to start?” “There’s a problem” and sentences like:

1.       Barry been making nasty comments about me on a social media site

2.       Helen is very upset as she should have received a pay rise

3.       Adam has been accused of making an advance towards another member of staff

The first question many managers ask themselves is ‘is it my responsibility to sort it out?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ there can still be a real dread getting caught up in very emotional or difficult performance and conduct issues. If you get it wrong the employee could then be absent from work, or they could work less effectively, you may get landed with a grievance. Get it right and you can see levels of performance, attendance and employee increase.


What is a difficult conversation?

Any conversation where you have to manage emotions and information in a sensitive way in order to:

  • Tackling personality clashes
  • Addressing  poor performance or even poor conduct
  • Comfort or reassure someone – for example, if they are about to be made redundant
  • Dealing with personal problems
  • Investigating any complaints and dealing with grievances

There are conversations which usually take place face-to-face which can sometimes really test a manager’s skills.

Why should I act promptly?

  • mislead the employee by giving the impression that there is no problem
  • deny the employee the chance to improve or put things right
  • lower the morale within team members
  • damage the productivity and efficiency of the company

How can I make the conversation less stressful?

  • having a quiet word at the first sign that something is wrong
  • talk to the employee representatives to try and gauge how the staff are feeling and if they are having any issues
  • making sure you are keeping in touch with your staff and the team

It is easier and far better to nip any problems in the bud, as promptly and effectively wherever possible, rather than waiting for them to become difficult and complicated.

What skills do I need to handle a challenging conversation?

There are many different skills needed to manage difficult conversations and behaviour.  Sometime dealing with an emotional or confrontational employee who may appear to be trying to unsettle or undermine you.


  1. The way you communicate i.e. tone of your voice
  2. Your ability to take control of a meeting
  3. Your levels of self-belief
  4. Body launguage