Sometimes a manager needs to initiate a difficult conversation with an employee. Perhaps the employee’s behavior has been problematic — getting into arguments with co-workers, refusing to obey orders, etc. — or it may be that the person’s performance hasn’t been up to snuff.

Either way, these are hard things to talk about, and managers may not always know how to approach them.

Here, from leadership consultant and author Susan Scott, is a seven-step method that you can use to train managers in holding these difficult, but necessary, conversations:

  • Specify the issue and describe its effect. The manager might say something like: “Jack, I want to talk with you about the effect your criticisms are having on the team.”
  • Give an example. “When you told Jennifer her idea was stupid, she felt hurt and offended.”
  • Describe your emotions. Don’t get angry or agitated, but explain calmly how you feel about the issue. “I am really worried about the way you dismiss the ideas of others.”
  • Clarify what’s at stake. “Jennifer is a key member of the team. If she feels she’s seen as stupid, she’ll be hesitant to contribute.”
  • Acknowledge your contribution to the problem. “I’m sorry I didn’t say something earlier, instead of allowing it to go on.”
  • Indicate your desire to fix the problem. Use the word resolve. “So you can see why I want to resolve this issue, because your dismissive style is having a negative effect.”
  • Invite a response. Now that you’ve addressed the problem thoroughly, it’s time to listen. “I’d like to know your thoughts about this, Jack.”

Just the beginning
This is only the start of the difficult conversation that will almost certainly ensue. The employee on the hot seat may be aggressive, defensive, aggrieved or surly, and your manager still has to deal with attitudes like these before agreement can be reached on the necessary behavioral change.

But if managers begin these conversations successfully, they’ve got a better chance of having a positive impact than if they stumble in ill-prepared.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Rapid Learning Institute 1510 Chester Pike, Suite 310 Eddystone, PA 19022

  • Toll Free: (877) 792-2172
  • Contact Us

About RLI

RLI is 100% CAN-SPAM compliant. We're dedicated to protecting your privacy. We will NEVER sell or share your email address and will promptly honor all unsubscribe requests.

Learn More

Connect With Us

Signup to Receive Industry-Leading Tips and News from our Experts