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Difficult conversations, we all want to avoid them.  But what if we could avoid them altogether?

One of the key issues we face when dealing with small to medium sized businesses (and larger organisations), are difficult conversations and employee-employer relationships that are about to combust!  All too often we are roped in to resolve workplace issues that have been on the boil for some time, usually related to performance of staff and or lack of compliance.  Here’s why.

Performance issues:  Performance shouldn’t be an annual conversation that is forced upon a manager and an employee.  Discussions should be ongoing and follow a more ‘as it happens approach’.  Feedback is one of the amazing tools, so simple, yet so powerful, to maintain positive and constructive relationships.  Here’s the thing.  If an employee does not know that they are not doing their job right, or they could or should be performing better in whatever it is that they do, if it isn’t raised with them at or near the time that incidents are occurring how do they know they are not up to scratch.  Such conversations don’t need to be arduous, official and intimidating occurrences, it can be as simple as “Hey Mary, I have noticed that your billable hours are down this month, did you know that we have a target of such and such for you?”. Or, “John, I don’t want to make a big deal about this but I noticed you came in late again this morning, it’s really impacting the rest of the team.  Keep an eye on the time eh?”.

Often these quick comments can be enough for an employee to know that they are slipping and they will usually pull their socks up.  We find, most employees genuinely think they are doing their very best if they haven’t been told otherwise.  On that note, if there is an ongoing issue with an employee that then gets raised at a performance meeting only and has been going on for a substantial length of time, you put yourself in a compromised position.   You have to be careful that pushing them into a performance improvement plan, when they have been “mind-blown” by an allegation of non-performance, when they thought they were great, this can do serious damage for your ongoing relationship and cause further underperforming issues… and sometimes, bullying or constructive dismissal claims.

Not addressing issues (performance or otherwise) while they are small can also undermine you as a leader.  If you are seen to be lenient or a ‘push over’, staff might take advantage.  Equally, if you are seen to be scary because you only blow up when you can’t take it anymore, you might not have meaningful working relationships within the team.

Why do we avoid difficult conversations?

  • We convince ourselves that talking about the problem will make the problem worse rather than resolving it
  • The cure may be worse than the disease
  • We do not want to feel bad
  • We do not want the other person to feel bad
  • We may hear things in the conversation about ourselves that we do not want to hear
  • We and/or the other person may get emotional
  • We are not sure where the conversation will end
  • We fear the consequences

Our tips for avoiding difficult conversations?

  • Take an active approach to talking about things as they occur
  • Have a ‘no secrets’ stance in your workplace i.e. make it very clear what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour:
    • Have policies in place
    • Keep communication open and active
  • Ensure you acknowledge and consider other people’s point of view


If you need advice, contact us by emailing

NB: Goal Digger electronic materials do not replace professional, circumstantial advice and should be reviewed as a guide only.