• Business planning and strategy

The Importance of Learning How to Hold the Difficult Business Conversations

Guest Blogger | August 12, 2016


Written by: Sylvie Guinois, www.sylvieguinois.com

A difficult conversation is one that discusses a subject or brings forward facts that the other may not want to hear. The person in front of you may react defensively or disagree. Such conversations—which no one wants to have—become even more difficult if you haven’t developed your communication skills.

I work with several young leaders who are grappling with employee management problems. They are faced with having to ensure respect for internal guidelines, dress codes, safety measures, or they must intervene regarding tardiness and internal disputes. But they are not too sure how to address these issues. They often don’t want to be seen as a boss who is always getting worked up, and they would rather be friends with their employees. But when you try and act as a friend, rather than a boss, employees will not look at you as a manager, and feel like they can go against the rules.

For example, I had a discussion with an entrepreneur who, through the use of mystery clients, discovered that when he was away from his store, his employees would close earlier than scheduled, didn’t respect the dress code, and spent time in places restricted to customers. It came to the point that some of his regular customers even noticed irregularities in employee behaviour and spoke to the entrepreneur about it. So he needed to act—and quick!

What to do? He had to lay out the inappropriate behaviour, the dates when it occurred, remind the employee of the procedures covering these actions, and list future consequences.

Every time you transmit a message that will not please your listener, there is a possibility things will go wrong. If you are not comfortable conducting this kind of discussion, you will be at a disadvantage and you may not reach your goal. This is true as much for your employees as for your suppliers, your car mechanic or your mother-in-law. Here are some tips to help you:


  1. Prepare your message well;
  2. Base your message only on facts and dates, not on emotions or impressions;
  3. Practice several times beforehand;
  4. Choose a setting where your conversation can be private;
  5. Remain calm as you present your message.

During the conversation:

  1. Don’t take a confrontational attitude;
  2. Don’t start sentences with “I’m sorry”;
  3. Don’t try to control the other person;
  4. Maintain visual contact;
  5. Allow silent moments;
  6. Make sure the other person understands;
  7. Seek details by asking questions when necessary;
  8. Plan on putting an end to the conversation to allow yourself, and the other person, to think about the situation .

Is that so “hard”? In fact, it’s just the opposite! By learning how to communicate appropriately, you will avoid emotions getting carried away, saying something you don’t really mean, insults or abusive language that might produce the ill effect you are trying to avoid. Instead, you’ll be in the position of a team leader who is effective in the role and respectful of everyone.

And conversely, if you were to receive a message that displeases you, or which you disagree with, how would you react? Would you freeze? Would you boil inside but try to hide it? Would you shout? Would you start crying? Would you get worked up? Would you run away? Hmm… learning to master difficult conversations can be as relevant when it comes to discussions with your investors, clients and partners. What do you think?

About the author:
Sylvie Guinois is a business coach who provides training to managers, and a mentor at Futurpreneur Canada. Her approach shows new leaders how to better communicate their vision and instructions, while reducing frustrations and confusion related to the lack of clear and up-to-date management methods. To learn more about Sylvie, go to www.Sylvieguinois.com (in French).