We tend to avoid difficult conversations a lot, don’t we? Why do you think that is? Some would say, no one likes conflict and that probably has a lot of truth to it. If I told you, it only takes a few simple steps to help minimise situations occurring that create the need for a difficult conversation and hopefully prevent these conversations altogether. 

Good systems and processes are key to allow you to have positive and constructive conversations and discussions. Not only do you as business owners need to act appropriately (no shouting and swearing at employees please!) but the way you manage conflict or difficult conversations needs to be considered and not avoided. 

So why not start off the new year by reviewing how you currently manage difficult conversations and why they may be occurring. What could be happening in your workplace causing the need to have difficult conversations? Difficult conversations may be required for things like;

  • Inappropriate behaviour 
  • Underperformance
  • Lack of clarity 
  • Misalignment of expectations
  • Knowledge gaps

If you were to put a few simple things in place, could you bring more alignment, encourage more open communication, good conflict/debate and minimise the need to be having difficult conversations? Consider putting some of the following actions and processes in place.


Train yourself, your leaders and your managers on appropriate management of staff. Make sure everyone knows the difference between management action and harassment or bullying. Managing people isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being fair and reasonable and communicating effectively and regularly.

You have a set of values in your business right? Use these as a guide to all behaviour. Talk to your managers and the team about these values regularly. Your employees are watching your every move, so are you leading by example?

contracts, descriptions, policies and procedures

Avoid confusion (which can cause conflict and lack of trust)with your employees by having the following simple structure in place;

Employment Contract & Position Descriptions

These two documents provide clarity and protection for everyone and are a mechanism to enable you to provide good management and establish the baseline of commitment and expectations.

Both documents can be simple and will help with performance management and improvement. These documents help everyone start and stay on the same page.

If you are new to this, go to the fair work website and download a basic employment contract and position description to get you started. Click here: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/how-we-will-help/templates-and-guides/templates 

Goals and Expectations 

As well as knowing how to do their job, an employee will thrive when they know what they are working towards. Share your business vision with your employees and set goals for them that align with the vision. Give them something to strive for and ensure they clearly know how to achieve their goals. The SMART goal formula is always a good way to approach. 

See an article by Bradley Dean in our advisory team, all about smart goals. 

Policies and Procedures

Have a collection of simple policies and procedures in place. This will help with culture, conduct, behaviour and safety. Your policies can provide a framework that will help avoid activities that cause conflict and provide a mechanism to help you deal with an incident and a difficult conversation, should they occur.

Workplace Health and Safety, Conduct, Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying, Grievance, IT & Social Media are all good policies to have in place. Let me know if you need help putting a few basic policies together.

Note: Training is crucial. You should get into a habit of training specific policies at least once a year. At a minimum, include Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment, along with Workplace Health and Safety. 

Performance Check-ins 

Make these commonplace and regular, not just when there is a problem. Depending on the size of your team, you may be able to have monthly catch-ups. Ideally don’t go longer than 3 months to check-in with your team members.

When you do a check-in, have a structure and a shared agenda with a list of discussion points. Make sure you have a discussion point around issues where each party has the opportunity to raise concerns or ask questions.  Dealing with something while it is potentially small, is such a better approach. If you create an environment where raising concerns and asking questions is second nature, everyone will feel comfortable doing it. 

Get it right from the outset

Checking in with new starters more regularly (weekly for the first month or two, then monthly) and providing training in the ‘way we do things here’ is a great way to set people up for a great experience and hopefully reduce the need for difficult conversations.

Regardless as to whether you have all or some of the above in place if you deal with things in real-time, the chances of needing a very difficult conversation should lessen. If you see behaviour or actions that don’t sit right with you or are not aligned with your values or your culture, don’t wait for the next discussion or the behaviour to get worse. Deal with it. Something that could take a very small mention, initially, that is not addressed, could turn into a very difficult conversation.

Finally, having a simple structure and a few processes around managing employees, where they understand expectations and acceptable behaviours along with a consistent communication loop will definitely minimise issues and help you reduce the need to have difficult conversations.


Originally authored by Anna Chipperfield.