How to tackle difficult conversations 

As a Manager there are times when you get involved in difficult conversations and it can be tough to handle them well. This can be difficult because of the message and sometimes it difficult because of the person you need to have the conversation with. Managing people is one of the most challenging aspects of a Manager’s role and difficult conversations that are not managed well can cause tension between the employee and the Manager and can sometimes escalate to grievances.

What’s important is not to shy away from these conversations, whether this be that a member of the team is not performing to the expected levels, or your Manager isn’t providing you with the support you require, whatever the difficult message it helps to plan for the conversation.

Below is a useful process that can be used when dealing with difficult conversations:


Within difficult conversations it’s important to remember the two conversations modes – push assertive (pushing your agenda on people) and pull assertive – (pulling information out of others). These need to be balanced with active listening skills.


Pulling out of others – open questions, seek to understand,

Understand their thoughts/views/feelings, and

Build on common ground


Expressing your views,

Stating your thoughts/views/feelings, and 

Stating what you want.

Need to have a difficult conversation and require extra support or advice? Get in touch and we can arrange a free consultation.

James HR Consultancy, transforming people through change 




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Deborah James

Deborah James is a human resource (HR) expert who specialises in the field of transformational change, TUPE and employee engagement.

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