When having a difficult conversation in the workplace- like when you decide to let an employee go, or you have to confront a conflict between coworkers- it’s best to use some direct communication tools to get your point across and engage the conversation so it doesn’t create further conflict.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that your part of the conversation goes well.

  • Be direct. Getting to the point quickly without excess is the essence of a productive, difficult conversation. It’s necessary to make sure that your tone isn’t harsh, however.
  • Being specific, whether it’s about feedback, criticism, or letting go of an employee, can help ease the pain of the conversation for both parties. Specific language that cites circumstances, situations, or conflicts in the past offer concrete examples as to why the difficult conversation is being had and allows the other party to fully accept, acknowledge, and take ownership of their mistakes.
  • Planning out the conversation is also a vital tool when confronting a difficult topic or conversation. Knowing what you’re going to say and how you want to say it is a valuable goal when confronting difficult topics. Prepare for questions, recognize the answers, and make sure to make your point clear.
  • Watch your language. Being forceful, aggressive, defensive, or otherwise negative in a difficult conversation can make the other party feel attacked and cause the conversation to go poorly.
  • If there’s conflict, make sure you think about and discuss potential solutions. For example, if an employee is coming into work late frequently, perhaps see if there’s any later shifts available because of something going on in the employee’s life.
  • Keep your emotions in check and regulate sympathy vs. empathy. Empathy is when you feel with someone- act as if you’re in the position of the other party and imagine how they would feel. Instead of becoming angry or defensive if the conversation isn’t going well, instead consider how someone would feel in the position of being on the other side of the conversation.
  • Make sure to be open to questions during the difficult conversation. Make sure to prepare and think through answers and discuss with the other party what exactly the issue is. Making the issue clear with concise, direct language can make the conversation go much more smoothly.