3. What is a ‘difficult conversation’?
It’s a conversation where you have to manage emotions and
information in a sensitive way
They can arise in a wide variety of situations
We are concentrating on:
the probationary period
Performance management situations
4. A bit of recent research (from the CMI)
‘Difficult’ conversations at work
Relationship break-ups, money,
40% panic and tell a lie
43% lose their temper and shout
Reactions to ‘difficult’
conversations at work
Mumble, stutter, trip over words
Clam up (41%)
Let emotions take over (37%)
Take things too personally (53%)
85% have never had any training
on how to tackle difficult
5. Why have difficult conversations?
It’s good for you
These problems don’t always
just go away
They have a habit of getting
You’ll be a better manager
Your team will be happier and
It’s good for the employee
They know where they stand
They have the chance to
It’s good for the company
All of the above, and…
Risks are lower if you address
6. A little bit of law
Lawyers are worried about legal risk
Contractual risks – think about:
The probationary period
Extending the probationary period
The notice period
‘Statutory’ risks – think about:
Unfair dismissal (normally need 2 years’ service)
7. A little bit more law
Fair dismissals require:
a ‘potentially fair reason’
a dismissal decision within the ‘range of reasonable responses’
a fair process
‘Potentially fair reasons’
Conduct, capability, redundancy, illegality, ‘some other substantial
In the absence of a good reason…
…employees may suspect a ‘bad’ one!
8. Avoiding (very) difficult conversations
This is not about dodging them altogether!
It’s about tackling issues earlier
A quiet word
Are you approachable?
Make sure you stay informed
9. Laying the foundations – take control
Control the situation
Timing, location, personnel
Control your emotions
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Control the outcomes
Think ahead, but don’t prejudge
Don’t get bounced into anything
10. Preparation is the key
Be clear about the purpose of the
Make sure you know:
your policies and procedures
all relevant documents and
Remain calm and controlled
Use an agenda?
Ask for help, if you need it
11. Think about your language
Open questions (getting them to open up)
How do you think things are going?
What happened (next)?
Closed questions (pinning them down)
What time was that?
Who else was there?
Reflective questions (getting a bit more detail)
Why did you do that?
Are you telling me that…?
12. Think about your language (cont’d)
Leading questions (best avoided)
“It was you who took the money wasn’t it?”
Multiple questions (also best avoided)
“You did it and you acted alone and you knew that what you were
doing was wrong, didn’t you?”
People often want to fill the gap!
Remember to listen
13. Active listening
Tone of voice
Smile (if appropriate)
Make eye contact
Ask questions that show you are
14. A couple of possible scenarios
A long-serving employee whose timekeeping has started to become
An employee is returning from an extended period of sick leave
15. The probationary period
Establish your expectations
Monitor and discuss
Have a review meeting
Confirm, extend, terminate?
This is your big chance!
16. Disciplinary issues (before going formal)
How serious is it?
Use informal conversations
Start slowly and build up
But don’t leave it too late, e.g.
When you are sick to the back teeth of them
When they have accrued >2 years’ service
17. Disciplinary issues (going formal)
Know your policies and procedures
Who is doing what and by when?
Have the allegations been properly investigated?
Are there any loose ends?
18. Disciplinary issues (going formal)
Is the invitation letter right?
Clearly set out the allegations
Refer to company rules
Supply the evidence
Tell them how serious it is
Be clear about what’s at stake
If they are on a warning already?
Remind them what this means
19. Getting the disciplinary meeting right
Know the issues, the evidence
Consider using an agenda
Introduce everyone / explain how the meeting works
Go through the company’s evidence
Allow the employee to challenge the evidence
Allow the employee to mount his ‘defence’
‘Retire’ to consider your verdict
20. After the disciplinary meeting?
The outcome letter should set
Your findings of fact
Why you have preferred one
side to the other
Guilty or innocent?
The sanction you are imposing
The right of appeal
Take account of
the ‘mental element’ of the
Any mitigating circumstances
Make sure the sanction is
From case to case, person to
Have you ‘gone through the
21. Some other points to note
Don’t issue ‘resign or be sacked’ ultimatums
If they offer to resign, you are entitled to accept
What if they raise a grievance?
22. Performance management
The ongoing dialogue
The isolated issues
The slightly worrying pattern
The real problem (can’t/won’t/something else?)
The annual performance review
Don’t store up problems
23. Performance management – going formal
Preparation (again, it’s important)
Get the invitation letter right
Clearly set out your concern(s)
Provide examples (where appropriate)
Provide all relevant evidence
24. Performance management – the meeting
Introduction and structure
Set the scene
Go through the concerns
Remind them of previous conversations etc
Do they agree?
Reasons for the underperformance?
Their views on the solution?
25. Performance management – the meeting
(Agreed) SMART targets
Training and support?
Warning (if appropriate)
Maintain the momentum
Keep your side of the bargain
Don’t throw all your hard
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Keep the cycle going
Move through the gears