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Have courageous conversations

A courageous conversation is an effective tool that you can use to resolve conflicts. Beginning a challenging conversation can be the hardest part. Use the openers below to set a non-threatening, unbiased scene.

1. Open the conversation

  • I have something I'd like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
  • I would like to talk about                      with you, but first I 'd like to get your point of view.
  • I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
  • I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If they postpone you, follow up with them.
  • I think we have different perceptions about                       . I 'd like to hear your thinking on this.
  • I would like to see if we might reach a better understanding about                       . I really want to hear your thoughts about this and share my perspective as well.

2. Manage the conversation

You may start a conversation well, but find yourself reacting to the other party as it becomes contentious. Try to maintain control using the prompts below.

3. Frequently asked questions

Employee disagrees constructively

Manager response

  • Don't dismiss valid points raised by an employee.
  • Don't accept that an employee can 'agree to disagree'. This may be an attempt to avoid taking on feedback.
  • Be open to new ideas.
  • Record employee point of view.
  • Use examples.

Employee agrees too quickly

Manager response

  • Use questions such as 'What is your understanding of the problem?'
  • Be alert to non-verbal communication.
  • Make sure there is a mutual understanding of overall performance, goals and objectives before the meeting ends.

Employee has unrealistic expectations

Manager response

  • Explain the big picture.
  • Don't make promises you can't keep.
  • Outline what experience or skills are needed for improvement
  • Reinforce individual responsibilities.

Employee constantly shifts the blame

Manager response

  • Probe further and pursue facts.
  • Draw back to own performance and responsibilities.
  • Use self-appraisal—consider issues and feedback being given.
  • Ask for possible solutions or options.

Employee becomes hostile or defensive or shouts

Manager response

  • Talk calmly, slowly and firmly—Don't answer shouting with more shouting.
  • If the shouting continues, ask the employee to leave and say that you will schedule a time to continue the discussion when he or she has had time to calm down.
  • Focus on why feedback is being given.
  • Use factual evidence to support your point.
  • Be positive to show you are not attacking.
  • Ensure you set a timely follow up meeting.

Employee is passive and unresponsive

Manager response

  • Ask open-ended questions, such as 'What would your approach to the problem be? Why do you think you were so successful in completing that project?'
  • Allow silences.
  • Rephrase difficult questions.
  • Start with the subject that most interests employee or recent successes.

Employee talks at length and doesn't come to the point

Manager response

  • Ask closed questions.
  • Focus discussion.
  • Use probing.
  • Ask the employee to list issues in bullet points.
  • Keep to main points.

Employee becomes emotional or teary

Manager response

  • Try to minimise the employee’s embarrassment by empathising and speaking in low, even tones.
  • Offer compassion and tissues.
  • Ask if he or she would like to talk later, or you leave the room to give them time to compose themselves.
  • Encourage him or her to express feelings.
  • Continue to refocus on issues.
  • Reassure them on their performance.
  • Highlight strengths and reiterate positives.
  • Use ‘time out’ but be sure to set a timely follow up meeting.

Employee walks out

Manager response

  • Ask the person to stay so that you can finish the discussion.
  • Don’t force the issue if they don’t listen.
  • Let the employee leave and take up the discussion again when he or she is calmer.
  • If the employee continues to refuse to address an issue, consult your HR contact for guidance on handling the situation.