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Difficult Conversations - Managers

Updated on May 9, 2020
Russ Baleson profile image

Russ writes on relationships, people management, music, and poetry. He is originally from South Africa and now lives in the UK.

Handling difficult conversations is one of the more challenging tasks of a manager’s role. It’s relatively easy to deliver a difficult message and leave a person feel de-motivated, but it takes skill, gravitas and diplomacy to deliver it whilst maintaining self-esteem and motivation.

If your intention is to support the individual and/or improve performance, you can use the following structure to deliver your message effectively.

  1. Set the agenda - What and Why.
  2. Ask for their input.
  3. Listen to understand.
  4. Make expectations clear.
  5. Close the loop / discuss next steps.

The above however, has to be conducted in an adult manner, in an atmosphere of Gravitas. Please refer to the Hub, With Gravitas - Your Intention Heard and Felt.

1. Set the Agenda - What and Why

Open the discussion by briefly and simply stating WHAT (the observable behaviour) you want to talk to them about and WHY you want to talk to them about it. This sets the agenda and the tone for the meeting right from the outset.

For example: "I’d like to talk to you about some of the remarks you made about customers in the team meeting yesterday because I was concerned about the impression you made on some of the new people."

2. Ask for Their Input

It’s important that you ask them to explain their point of view or reasons for their behaviour before taking the discussion any further.

For example: "Could you tell me why this happened?" or, "I’d like to understand your point of view on this."

3. Listen to Understand

It’s pointless asking them for their input if you aren’t going to listen to them. Listening with the intention to understand their perceptions, reasons, motivation, etc., will provide you with the substance you need to take the discussion further (or not).

Please refer to the Hub, Listen to Understand for more insight.

4. Make Expectations Clear

The purpose of these discussions is to improve behaviour rather than to punish it. It’s important to make your expectations crystal clear at this stage and to check that they fully understand the specific behaviour that’s required of them in the future.

Most of the time we assume that expectations are crystal clear because they seem to be common sense. But just because it’s crystal clear to you doesn’t mean it is to anyone else. The easiest way to check if your expectations are clear is to ask yourself, "If someone else asked that person what they think I expected them to do in a certain situation, what would they say? What would their actual words be?"

5. Close the Loop / Discuss the Next Steps

Depending upon the situation and the circumstances, the action you take in this step can vary considerably. Sometimes no further action is necessary other than you reinforcing their behaviour with appropriate feedback at a later stage.

It might be necessary however to schedule a follow-up meeting or make them aware of the consequences that will follow if their behaviour does not change to the required standards.


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    • Russ Baleson profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Baleson 

      8 years ago from Sandhurst, United Kingdom

      Thanks Love Doctor, yes, listening to understand engages the mental process that makes one have to give full attention to the intention of the other person. Something I always strive for. Thanks for your comments. Russ

    • Russ Baleson profile imageAUTHOR

      Russ Baleson 

      8 years ago from Sandhurst, United Kingdom

      Hi Sue, lovely to hear from you and thank you so much for your comments. Russ

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Voted up useful information. I like the principle of listen to understand.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi Russ,

      The department I work in is responsible for Corporate Training. I am not a manager but I was give the opportunity to attend a workshop for Managers called Active Leadership where I learned the four step feedback.

      Voted up and awesome

      Have a good day :)


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