How to Have Hard Conversations with Your Staff


As a leader, addressing an employee’s fluctuating performance or initiating a conversation about termination is an undesirable part of the job. However, these conversations don’t have to be uncomfortable or awkward. Difficult dialogues can be successful and fruitful when done right. Here are 4 strategies to use when you are faced with initiating a hard conversation with a member of your team.

1. Have a plan. 

Having a structured outline of talking points and an attainable end goal in mind will help you facilitate the conversation. If you have a performance review system in place, be prepared to share data from previous evaluations. Your planning process should include reviewing facts, details, and relevant information that pertain specifically to the problem. Invest time in developing a clear and concise message. Don’t use a script that will sound insincere, but develop the basic structure of the conversation to ease the tension.

2. Listen.

 As you are sharing thoughts on the issue,  listen to the perspectives that your staff member has to offer. Collaborate on finding a solution together that works for everyone involved. Give team members the opportunity to self-reflect and express accountability. Ask relevant questions to broaden your understanding of the employee’s point of view. Oftentimes, a solution can be reached harmoniously without creating an atmosphere of hostility. As James 1:19 reminds us, be quick to listen and slow to speak.

3. Remain positive and professional. 

Focus on the improvement you are seeking rather than the failure. We all make mistakes, and employing grace is one of the best ways to approach a hard conversation.  Avoid being judgmental and focus on giving genuine constructive feedback. Most successful leaders can attest to the importance of demonstrating empathetic honesty when talking to a staff member about an issue or complaint. A  good practice is to start the conversation with a positive comment such as, “I am very appreciative of your work ethic in the office,” before introducing the problem.  Honesty and grace should go hand-in-hand during these conversations.

4. Schedule a timely follow-up conversation.

 Keep the lines of communication open and be readily available to discuss any afterthoughts your employee might have. This will demonstrate leadership dependability throughout the problem-solving process.  Every leader wants a prosperous team and showing a consistent interest in your staff’s professional growth will foster a culture of success with long-term results.

If we can help your team through our staffing and consulting services, set up a free staff consultation call to get started.