Diverse work team having a productive meeting

When Managers Have Difficult Conversations, Everyone Benefits

Have you ever been summoned to your manager’s office for the kind of talk you’d rather not have? Perhaps to be told of an impending layoff or a less-than-stellar performance evaluation? Feels uncomfortable just to think about it, doesn’t it?

Employees hate those difficult conversations, and researchers confirm that a whopping 70% of workers admit that they avoid such interactions.

Managers sidestep difficult conversations, too. Half of surveyed managers view those discussions—which can include a multitude of topics from delivering news of terminations to pointing out workers’ personal hygiene deficiencies—as their biggest job challenge. No wonder 7 in 10 managers say that communicating with employees makes them uncomfortable, and many admit to delaying or dodging difficult discussions.

7 in 10 managers

say communicating with employees makes them uncomfortable

Asked why they avoid those conversations, managers may cite the demands of their roles, claiming no time to handle any but the most essential interactions with employees. Others may admit that they skirt discussions because they don’t know how to go about them, or fear they lack the communication skills to avert discomfort—their own, or that of their direct reports. (See our Why Managers Avoid Difficult Conversations post.)

Avoiding Difficult Conversations Is a Dangerous Choice

For whatever reasons managers shun difficult conversations with employees, failure to carry out those responsibilities can cause problems—for those immediately involved in the discussions, but also for other workers and the broader organization.

To gain a true appreciation of the importance of challenging conversations, consider a few examples of unintended consequences that can occur when frank discussions are avoided or mishandled:

  • Damage to company culture/growth of toxic culture
  • Negative effects on employee engagement and morale
  • Reduced personal and organizational productivity
  • Miscommunications and missed opportunities to improve quality, performance, and relationships
  • Lack of accountability resulting in disrespectful workplaces
  • Poor decision-making and problem-solving

That list reflects only some of the possible negative outcomes that managers, employees, and company leaders can expect when difficult conversations don’t happen. However, it makes clear that extensive damage is a real threat.

The Benefits of Effective Conversations Are Far-Reaching

  • Support for a positive organizational culture
  • Greater trust, respect, and stronger manager/employee relationships
  • Opportunities to develop better communication skills and professional growth (for both managers and employees)
  • Enhanced performance and productivity from the individual to the organizational level
  • Confidence- and leadership-building opportunities for managers
  • Greater accountability and more respectful workplaces

Here are a few examples of how a difficult conversation can lead to these types of benefits:
Addressing Disrespect
Example: An employee consistently engages in tech discussions with colleagues, excluding an older team member. The manager addresses the issue, highlighting a possible unconscious bias against older individuals' tech abilities. The manager helps the employee challenge the bias, fostering team inclusivity and ensuring everyone can contribute.
Addressing a Performance Issue
Example: An employee routinely delays crucial reports, affecting many team members. After a challenging conversation, the manager identifies time management issues and works with the employee to prioritize essential reports, boosting productivity for both the employee and the team
Admitting to an Employee that You've Made a Mistakee
Example: A manager's misunderstanding of a project necessitates a do-over, causing extra work for a specific employee. By admitting this mistake to the employee, the manager fosters trust and sets the example that it's safe to take ownership of mistakes, building a culture of accountability and honesty.

Again, the actual positives can extend far beyond those listed in this post, potentially affecting every level of an organization.

To realize those benefits, managers need top-quality training that’s proven effective and designed especially for them. Our soon-to-be-released Uncomfortable Conversations training offers demonstrated excellence in helping managers develop the confidence and communication skills they need to plan and conduct difficult discussions that emphasize problem-solving and accountability—the kind of interactions that build trust and strengthen workplace relationships. For more information on this new course, contact us.