Difficult Conversations – Personal relationships at work

What makes a conversation difficult?

Each conversation is unique, but there are often common reasons why they are difficult.  These common reasons include:

  • Human nature – I always try to avoid conflict
  • Embarrassment – I don’t like awkward situations
  • It might all go wrong – I could end up with a grievance or worse
  • It might become emotional – I can’t deal with  tears
  • It will take too long – Isn’t it HR or someone else’s job anyway?

What should I do if the employee is a personal friend?

Handling a difficult conversation with a personal friend adds a layer of complexity.  This issue is very common, particularly where the organisation likes to promote from within.  One minute you are one of the gang, the next you are expected to keep everyone in line.

Consistency is the key here.  You need to treat all employees in a consistent manner whether they are personal frinds or not.  Even more importantly you need to be seen to treat them in a consistent manner.

If you have a difficult conversation with one of your team in the office that is not a personal friend with a member of HR present, or another witness present, you do the same for a personal friend.

Managing personal relationships in a work situation are always fraught with difficulties, so the best advice is to consider changing the relationship slightly when you become their manager

Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Speak to your colleague and explain  the relationship at work will need to change. It will need to be on a more formal professional level

Ensure that any dealings you have with the ‘personal friend’  regarding work matters are done following company procedures.  Having a witness present for any difficult conversations can be a good idea to ensure that you are seen to do this.

As a manager, you need your team to respect you, they may not always like you

Always ensure that you:

  • Document the meeting as soon as it is over
  • Ideally have a witness present at the meeting to be an independent pair of eyes observing proceedings
  • Prepare well.  Have all the information you need to hand, consider the likely responses you will encounter and how you might react.
  • Be clear on the outcome that you want to achieve from the meeting.  This will enable you to be better able to manage your reaction to events as they unfold

If you would like to know

  • What can go wrong?
  • How you ensure your message is heard and accepted?
  • How you can reduce the risk of things going wrong?

Read our Difficult conversations Blog


Deal with matters as they arise, don’t leave until they become a problem

Approach issues on an informal basis first

Prepare well, gather evidence, articulate key points, devise questions & responses

Ensure you document the conversation in case matters are not concluded

Be prepared to adjourn and continue the conversation at another time, place or with expert help alongside you

Be prepared for the unexpected!