Difficult Conversations – Outside of my area of expertise


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 difficult conversation is outside of my area of expertise?

Managing people is not a skill that we are all born with.  Some managers have a natural ability and appear to thrive handling tricky conversations.  Most of us find such conversations quite challenging.  This is often compounded by the fact that such conversation tend to only happen once in a blue moon.

There are plenty of books out there to help you learn the skills to manage difficult conversations effectively, however, when you are dealing with people the unexpected is always around the corner.  If you have an HR team in house use them.  They deal with difficult conversations all the time and should be able to support you effectively.

Should HR deal with these matters?

The answer to this question does vary from one organisation to another, however, handing over a key part of the managerial role to another department is not something that you would welcome in other areas of your responsibility.  It is often fear of conflict or the conversation becoming difficult which drives such behaviour.

You should not, therefore, be expected to manage these situations unsupported.

If you do not have an in-house HR team, Athena Professional can offer a comprehensive range of HR guidance, advice  and support to enable you to manage most difficult conversations with confidence.

Always remember that the employee you are talking to is likely to be much more uncomfortable about the conversation than you are.

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!