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.

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.

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.

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.