Workplace conflict and change conversations

Use this guide to ensure you have a calm, structured conversation with your employee about conflict or change in the workplace.

Start the conversation

Use opening sentences that set a non-threatening, unbiased scene. For example:

  • 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? (If the employee delays talking about it, be sure to follow up with them.)
  • I think we have different perceptions about ______. I'd like to hear what you think about it?
  • I would like to see if we can reach a better understanding about ______. I really want to hear your thoughts about this and share my perspective as well.

Manage the conversation

You may find that, even if you start the conversation well, it quickly becomes hard to manage. The employee might not respond in the way you anticipated. You might become reactive or provoked.

Try to maintain control using these prompts.

Employee disagrees constructively

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

Employee agrees too quickly

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

Employee has unrealistic expectations

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

Employee shifts the blame

  • Probe further and pursue facts.
  • Draw back to their 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

  • 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’ll schedule a time to continue the discussion when they’ve had time to calm down.
  • Focus on why you’re providing the feedback.
  • Use factual evidence to support your feedback.
  • Be positive to show you are not attacking the employee.
  • Ensure you set a timely follow up meeting.

Employee is passive and unresponsive

  • Allow silences.
  • 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?'
  • Rephrase difficult questions.
  • Start with the subject that most interests the employee or a recent success.

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

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

Employee becomes emotional or teary

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

Employee walks out

  • Ask the employee 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 they’re calmer.
  • If the employee continues to refuse to address the issue, speak with your HR team and get help.