Having Difficult Conversations to Correct Employee Behaviour

As a strong and personable boss, one may be inclined to soften the blow or skirt around an issue in order not to hurt their feelings. But this will lead them down a long road of miscommunication and resentment that can end up hurting both parties involved.

3 reasons why feedback should be given promptly:

1.    You get what you tolerate: bad behaviour poisons the team culture, relationships, and employee engagement very quickly.

2.    You owe it to the other team members: bad behaviour sets the tone for more bad behaviour.

3.    It is about giving a damn about the people – caring about their growth and development and fostering a culture of effective feedback.

According to research from Gallup, less than 15% of managers feel confident that the feedback they provide to employees is effective and only 26% of their workers say it’s helpful.

How to make feedback helpful and effective:

1.    Give feedback promptly in order to make the context clear. You can provide positive compliments publicly and offer more constructive criticism privately so that people are receptive to your ideas, no matter which side they fall on. “Specific and sincere praise helps the person you’re providing it to, and the whole team, understand what success looks like.” Radical Candor.

2.    To have a constructive conversation, it is important to stick with the issues at hand and not attack the other person. The discussion is about behaviours we exhibit in order to make an informed decision on how best to improve from there.

3.    Do not skirt the issues to soften the blow. We are often so afraid of offending or hurting someone that we avoid discussing difficult topics. But this doesn’t solve anything in the long run; it only leaves us feeling frustrated and confused while leaving the original issue unresolved for another day to tackle.

4.    Feedback can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. A study by Harvard Business Review found that 44% of managers agreed feedback is difficult or draining. What may come as a surprise is the 21% who say they often shy away from giving criticism!  Change your mindset. Eduard Manzoni suggests “framing it in a positive, less binary”. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development.

5.    The key to a successful conversation is planning the points you want to get across and being clear on what your desired outcome will be. It also helps knowing how best to handle opposing viewpoints that may arise in order for disagreements not to escalate into full-blown arguments.

6.    It’s easy to forget that when you’re speaking with someone, they don’t actually know what you want them to say. If we can take the time and have a conversation rather than just talking at each other it will be better for both parties in the end! Try slowing down your pace so you stay calm which is also good if either person tends to get angry or upset easily – this way there’ll be more chance things are going well instead of getting worse. It may seem like an easier route but co-creating together could lead towards greater outcomes.

7.    Stay calm, breathe.

After the conversation, it is a good habit to reflect on the success and areas of improvement in the conversation. Journal about it. Feedback takes practice. Susan Scott said we fail or succeed in life and in business one conversation at a time.


Knight, R. (2015). How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work. HBR. https://hbr.org/2015/01/how-to-handle-difficult-conversations-at-work

Scott, K. (2021). Is your feedback falling flat. Radicalcandor.Com. https://www.radicalcandor.com/radical-candor-feedback/