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Difficult Conversation

Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation with an employee? A conversation that will not only be uncomfortable, but is also a sensitive subject? In the world of technology, it continues to be more and more difficult to have direct, honest conversations with people. The art of conversation has changed drastically since emailing has grown to texting, instant messaging, etc. and those modes of communication have removed the sincerity in conversation.


So, what is a difficult conversation? Here are some examples –

  • Demotion of a supervisor
  • Alerting an employee that others were unable to be around him due to body odor
  • The closure of a department or job elimination


If you have been in the workforce for more than a few years, you have seen or been touched by a situation that was uncomfortable for someone, maybe not even you, but someone you knew. You knew someone who was let go, or knew a company closing its doors. You can understand the emotion that might go along with that situation.


Any time you must have a difficult conversation with an employee, you should always think about how that discussion might be received. Put yourself in that person’s position and bounce that conversation in your head with yourself – how did it sound? How might it be perceived? What emotion might be returned?


Can you tailor the conversation in a way that maintains dignity? Deters anger? Soften the message in order to not hurt them or cause their defenses to rise, but still construe the appropriate message?


Here is a scenario from my past before I worked in healthcare technology that might help. Even though it was in a different industry, the principles remain the same:


Problem: I had a supervisor that was a really nice guy but was not able to lead people. He was a great forklift driver who supervised a group of drivers, assigned work, and got freight moved from point A to point B. The problem was that he spent more time moving freight from point A to point B, rather than supervising and directing the team. Consequently, work was missed, and freight didn’t get to the right locations. He had been in his role for a very long time and was what one might consider to be “old school”. My job was to terminate him or get him out of his current role.


Difficult Conversation: Because Lou was a long-term employee, I wanted to try to keep him rather than fire him. Maybe just remove him from his supervisory role. I had to believe that he might be hurt, mad, or maybe relieved at my suggestion to move him to another department to just be a forklift driver rather than be in a supervisory role.


I laid out the discussion by pointing out the recent issues. He concurred, so I suggested that perhaps I could help him by alleviating some of the additional responsibility for him. I told him that he was good at being a forklift driver, and that he could be as much of an asset for the company by being that great example full-time. This way, he did not need to be off of the equipment in order to guide the other drivers. I also added that he seemed to really enjoy doing the driving. He agreed which made it much easier for me to know that moving forward with my plan would be more acceptable. I offered to remove him from his supervisory role and move to another department with the same pay (not many raises would be coming his way in the future) but suggested he would be happier. I also suggested that he make the announcement to his team sometime by the end of the week and just state that at his request he would stepping down from supervision. Lou was happy and so was the company.


In this scenario, I was able to assess what his reaction might be and lead him into a conversation that would help him and meet the needs of the company. Not all difficult conversations go the way you plan it out in your head, but if you make the effort, your chances are much greater.


You need to know the employee and plan out the different outcomes that could occur and be prepared to do what needs to be done. If Lou had not been willing to move departments, my discussion would have gone to the number of occurrences and termination.


If you have difficult scenarios in your workplace, take the time to assess them to determine the result you are seeking. Then ask, what is the best way to get there and maintain a person’s dignity? In order to build and maintain a strong team, difficult conversations may be necessary. The truth will set everyone free!


CoreTech Revolution is an IT consulting firm that specializes in providing project services, strategy & operations support, and specialized knowledge within HIT and health information exchange. With a keen eye for healthcare operations and business processes, CoreTech Revolution is skilled in defining client requirements, creating, and implementing change management strategies and plans that maximize adoption, minimize resistance, and meet project and organizational objectives.


Our approach of CorePurpose CoreAssessment, and CoreTransformation brings organizations positive and efficient changes to their current structure leaving the staff with successful repeatable processes and sustainable IT foundations.

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