Are You a New Boss? How Good Leaders Manage Tough Conversations

Dec 17, 2018

As a new supervisor, you understand that supervising employees brings the responsibility of leading strategy and directing priorities.  What you may underestimate, however, is the challenge that comes with addressing an employee’s poor performance.

The anxiety of having a difficult conversation can be draining.  Much worse, it could stop you from addressing a situation that requires attention. Avoiding the situation can impact your whole team.  The behavior continues and the culture is impacted. It is not uncommon for other employees to feel that when bad work is ignored, they are given additional work to make up for the poor performer. This can lead to morale issues or a feeling of “why try if poor performance doesn’t have consequences?”.  When it comes to performance feedback, what you don’t condemn, you condone.

Managing difficult conversations is a critical component of effective leadership.

The good news is that addressing poor performance has multiple positive impacts. It opens up the door to discuss challenges and opportunities for the employee. It leads to an improvement in performance. Other employees see positive changes, feel supported and trust that management is leading effectively.

Identify a strategy

  • Just like you would prepare for a presentation, prepare for the conversation. Tech company Piktochart’s CEO Ai Ching outlines an approach to mastering difficult conversations called GROW- Goals, Reality, Outcomes and Willingness.

Be objective

  • Stick to the facts and leave emotions out of the conversation. Avoid using words like “frustrated” or “disappointed” – identify the behavior and explain why it is a problem.

Stay on message

  • The other person may become defensive and take the conversation down a path that you did not anticipate. Stay focused on the situation at hand.

Identify the desired outcome

  • Think solution-focused. Avoid dwelling on the problem or poor behavior and move forward to the solution.

Be empathetic but consistent.

  • Empathy as a leadership tool is often underestimated but there is strong evidence that empathy is a critical tool. A Forbes article, Empathy Is An Essential Leadership Skill — And There’s Nothing Soft About It explores empathy as a way to reach others. “Essentially empathy is a neutral data gathering tool that enables you to understand the human environment within which you are operating in business and therefore make better predictions, craft better tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.”


Effective leadership doesn’t happen overnight, it is a skill to be developed. A career coach can help you identify roadblocks and strategies to lead your team successfully. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.