How To Have Difficult Conversations with Employees

Uncomfortable conversations are difficult at the best of times and can be especially awkward at work. So how should you approach them as an employer?

As a business owner or manager communication with your employees is key. Learning to communicate clearly and effectively with staff can help considerably when having difficult conversations.

ProcessWorx clients receive free quarterly training on different HR and Safety topics, this quarter HR Advisor Stephanie Topp ran a training session on having difficult conversations with employees to help our clients do this. Below are some of the key takeaways on the topic.

Have an understanding of different communication styles

Understanding how other people communicate and what they value is an important first step to having effective conversations. Reflect and recognise in yourself what you value and how it affects your communication with others. For example, if you value logic, you may communicate more directly or factually than someone else who values connection and empathy.

It is important to consider these in all interactions with employees, most importantly difficult or awkward conversations. Not considering communication styles can lead to defensiveness or hostility with staff making conversations more challenging.

In summary, good communication with employees is fundamental, do your best to recognise that everyone communicates differently based on their values, and remember to be adaptable and fit your communication style to fit your audience.

Prepare for the conversation

Don’t go into any meeting blind, the first step for having a difficult conversation with an employee is to prepare beforehand. Set an objective for the meeting, what is the purpose of the conversation?  Ensure you have the relevant facts before you speak to the employee and prepare relevant documents beforehand. Reflect on the interpersonal and leadership skills you may need for the conversation and prepare for how the employee may react. You may need to notify the employee of the meeting in advance, this is essential for meetings regarding disciplinary action or investigations.

Have the conversation in private

Difficult conversations need to be handled with consideration and care. Ensure you have the conversation in a quiet, safe and private place so you are not overheard or interrupted. Remember that all documents and communication should be handled confidentially.

Participate in the conversation

When having the conversation be genuine and seek to understand the situation from the employees’ point of view. Go into the discussion with an open mind and don’t assume what the outcome will be. Use open-ended questions to encourage the employee to participate in the conversation, like “Can you tell me more about …” “Can you give me an example of…”. Once all of the viewpoints have been raised consider possible solutions with the employee. Consult with the employee to discuss viable solutions and plan your next steps. Remember as the manager it is your role to manage your emotions and understand your employee’s, remain calm, rational and objective.

Having difficult discussions with employees can be hard as a manager or business owner, especially in small close-knit organisations. The ProcessWorx team can offer support to businesses with employee issues. If you have queries about anything above and want advice personalised to your business, contact us on (08) 9316 9896, or email

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Written by Danielle McNamee


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