If you're in a position where you need to have a difficult conversation with your employees...

How to have difficult conversations with employees

Do you dread having to sit your employees for a difficult or awkward conversation, possibly about their performance or employment? Are you consistently stressing over it and putting it off till the last moment?

You aren’t alone! Many employers, especially those that are running their own businesses, struggle with these conversations and often spend a lot more time on it then they should. ER Strategies has worked with plenty of these employers and found a number of things that have made the overall process a bit easier. Take a look below!

Recast the task

If you have to meet with an employee about poor performance, or some other poor behaviour it can seem like a negative conversation. However, if you recast your thoughts about it, you can see a new perspective. For example, if the employee is performing poorly, you can approach the conversation as if you are trying to help them improve their skills and satisfaction in their role. 

Have the conversation early

As tempting as it might be, don’t put it off. Chances are the issue won’t resolve itself, as an employer you need to address the issue as soon as possible. The longer that the issue bubbles away, the harder it will be to tackle down the track. By having difficult conversations early, you can help prevent issues from escalating and spiralling out of control. Would you rather sit an employee down today to discuss how she could improve her customer service skills, or have dissatisfied and angry customers leave your business?

Use the DESC strategy 

This method for delivering bad news was the subject of an earlier article. It strikes a balance between motivating behavioural change and making the delivery of bad news easier for both the employer and employee.

Be organised

Being organised is important for all meetings you have, regardless of their nature. However, in these difficult conversations being organised can keep the meeting on track and allow you to progress it to arrive at a positive outcome. Here are some tips for you to stay organised:

  • Write down your main points before you talk.
  • Arrange a specific time for the meeting
  • Have concrete evidence to back up your claims.

Be clear and concise

Being clear and concise is crucial in your meetings and can ensure that all parties are on the same page. Here are some tips on ensuring that your communication stays clear and concise:

  • Don’t beat around the bush.
  • Make sure you get your point across clearly.
  • Don’t ‘sandwich’ the bad news between good news- chances are the message will be lost.
  • At the end of the meeting, make sure they understand the unacceptable behaviour, how it should be changed and consequences if it is not. 

Keep it private

Ensuring all conversations stay private is important to both parties and the progression of the conversation. Having other staff aware of the conversation or overhearing things can lead to a number of things such as rumours spreading, which can be quite detrimental to the workplace and the specific employee. Here are some tips on keeping things private:

  • Hold the conversation in a private room.
  • Don’t advertise the meeting to other employees.

Be objective

Not letting any personal bias, or preconceived ideas and thoughts come into the meeting is important. Failing to do this could potentially lead to an unfair dismissal or general protections claim against your business. Personal bias or preconceived ideas can impact the way you ask questions or respond to answers. It can be hard to avoid, especially if you are doing it subconsciously, but it is important to focus on being as objective as possible. Here are some tips on doing that:

  • Don’t make it about the individual
  • Focus the discussion on their undesirable behaviour

Be empathetic

Empathy might not be something you naturally feel towards your employee, especially if their performance is negatively impacting your business. However, it can provide a different insight and something for you to consider as to why an employee is performing the way they are. This can be useful information in discovering how to get the most out of your employees. Here are some tips for being more empathetic:

  • Imagine how you would feel in that situation.
  • Acknowledge their feelings in a compassionate way.
  • Provide hope by encouraging action.


Similarly to being empathetic, listening to an employee can give you an insight into the reasons behind their behaviour. It is important to sit back and listen to your employee instead of acknowledging that they have responded. If you aren’t listening, it can signal that you have already made up your mind as to what your response will be and the only purpose the meeting is serving is to fulfil your obligations. If employees pick up on this and you dismiss them, it can lead to claims of unfair dismissal being made against your business. So here are some tips for listening in your meeting:

  • Allow for comments at the end of your discussion.
  • It’s important the employee feels they can have their say.
  • But don’t let them explain the behaviour away.

Need assistance?

We understand how hard it can be to not only have these conversations but to manage your employees. Ensuring you are compliant and protected against unfair dismissal or general protections claims also brings adds risk and stress whilst bringing something else to for you to consider. Here at ER Strategies, we are experts on assisting business in managing their employment compliance obligations in a realistic manner. Get in touch with us on 1300 55 66 37, or click the button below to contact us.

Free Download: Termination Letter Template

Need to let an employee go? Use our letter of termination template to ensure you are using the correct format. 

termination letter template