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No matter where you work, there will always be tough conversations to be had. Whether it’s a performance review, a reprimand, or having to fire someone, the conversation has to happen.

Your job is to figure out how to handle those situations with poise and consideration for the individual involved. If you avoid the situation or handle it with indifference, then your company will have a hard time progressing.

Here are 10 tips on how to handle tough conversations at work:

1. Know the Reason

The first thing you should do is determine the reason for the conversation.

Is the conversation mandated? Meaning, is it an assigned performance review? Do you need to reprimand someone for wrongdoing within the workplace? Do you need to fire someone?

Or, do you simply have a personal problem with another coworker that you want to be solved?

It is important to determine the reason, because if you just want to confront someone who has been bothering you, you may want to rethink your intentions and find a more constructive solution.

Your reasoning behind the conversation should be to help the individual improve and progress at work. If the reason is firing, you should deliver the news kindly and quickly.

2. Have a Plan

You should never enter a difficult conversation without being prepared. You should know what needs to be said and how it should be delivered to the recipient.

However, don’t rehearse what you are going to say word-for-word. You don’t want to sound like you are reading from a script. This may come off like you don’t care about the situation or the individual involved. You know the people who work for you, so you should know how to approach a tough situation with each one.

Think about what the other person may say or how they might react to the information given to them. Practice how you might diffuse the situation if it turns volatile.

If you go in unprepared you could end up with a disastrous situation. But, if you have a plan, it is much more likely to go smoothly and result in a constructive conversation.

3. Be Honest

When beginning your conversation, don’t waste time with small talk and pleasantries.

Odds are the other person who knows they are getting a reprimand of some sort. Don’t beat around the bush. These conversations are hard enough without muddling the issue. This conversation should be a time to provide some clarity about an issue and determine a solution.

You cannot do either of these things if you fail to get to the point.

You may feel like if you come right out with the criticism it may come off mean, but it doesn’t have to. It is often crueler to make the other person wait. So, be straight forward, but kind. Honesty is often the best way to deliver criticism.

4. Be Kind

Even if you are expecting a conversation to result in conflict, you should be kind and respectful to the other person right from the beginning.

Be mindful of the language you use. You do not want to appear a though you think yourself better than them. Don’t talk down to them. Treat them as an equal. Be understanding of their feelings and reactions to your critiques.

No one enjoys being told that they are doing something wrong and need to improve. They may even become defensive. The best way to deal with this it by being kind and validating their feelings. If you do this, the results of the conversation may surprise you.

5. Have a Solution in Mind

Don’t plan a conversation where the only intent is to criticize. You should always have a solution in mind before you have the conversation.

If you aren’t sure what that solution should be, then plan a time within the conversation to up with one together. This is a great way to bring a high note to a tough conversation.

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Having a solution will help the individual improve and succeed in their job. If you are firing the person involved, you can give them a suggestion to help them succeed in their next job.

6. Listen

The best way to have a constructive conversation is to take the time to listen to the other person.

After you have delivered your criticism, hear them out and let them tell their side of the story. There may be something that you don’t know. You may end up being the one in the wrong. Even if you aren’t, it is still important to actively listen.

Letting the other person have their say will help them feel more in control and will ease the tension of the situation. It shows that you are compassionate and recognize that this is a difficult situation for them. After they have said their piece, keep control of your own emotions, and respond to them the best that you can.

7. Be Empathetic

This goes right along with listening. Once you have heard them out, use your emotional intelligence to better understand how the other person may be feeling.

No one likes hearing what they have done wrong or that they are being fired. If they need it, give them a minute to absorb what is being said. They have a right to be upset. Put yourself in their shoes.

How would you be feeling and how would you like someone to treat you. At the same time, it helps them understand the reason for the criticism and what they can do to improve. Showing empathy is a great way to diffuse a potentially contentious situation.

8. Allow Questions

Don’t spend the entirety of the conversation telling the other person what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Allow them to ask questions. They might not fully understand what they did wrong and may need some clarification. You also may have some questions you want to ask to better understand the situation.

Don’t assume that you know all the answers. Allowing questions is a great way to help you and the other person involved come up with a solution that will help both of you progress in the workplace.

9. Be Open-Minded

Whatever the situation may be, approach it with an open mind. Try to be objective.

it is a personal situation, it may even partly be your fault.

If it is, take responsibility for it. If you take responsibility for your part, it will make it easier for the other person to take responsibility for theirs. Then you can both have a productive conversation that will result in a desirable outcome for both of you.

If you go into a conversation expecting there to be a problem, there will be.

10. Prepare for Fallout

After the conversation has ended, you need to be prepared for whatever may come next.

If you have fired someone you should watch them pack up and escort them out of the building to ensure that no backlash or resentful actions occur.

Also, if you are correcting behavior, you should follow up with the individual regularly to ensure that the behavior is being changed and improved upon. If you have had a conversation for personal reasons you may want to watch the situation to see if further action is necessary.

Having a tough conversation for whatever reason is never easy. If they are not handled in the right way, it could end in disaster. Keep the conversation constructive. Avoid unnecessary backlash by following the tips above, and you will be on your way to handling tough conversations like a pro in no time.

Written By
Micaiah Sowards is an HR Writer for Built for Teams, an intuitive HRIS system, providing HR managers and executives with critical employee data, reporting, org chart, and compliance information. When she isn’t hard at work, Micaiah likes to read a good book and spend quality time with her family.

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