Conversation guides for workplace conflict

Calm and confident conversations for positive outcomes  

There’s no sugar-coating it. Addressing conflict in the workplace is no one’s idea of fun. But, if you approach the situation carefully and calmly, they can be stepping-stones towards a more aligned team, better communication and higher-performing employees. The trick is to be prepared. Here’s what you might come up against and some conversation guides to get you started right.

1.Set the right meeting tone

Setting the tone for the meeting is important – and that comes down to what language you use when you book it. That means you must approach the meeting graciously – with a neutral and unassuming tone – and give your employee ample time to prepare.

Instead of speaking abruptly and condescendingly – “I need to talk to you about your actions last week – we’ll discuss them at our one-on-one next Thursday” – try to approach the situation firmly but fairly. Give your employee the benefit of the doubt and let them know exactly what you need to talk about:

  • “I’m interested to hear more about your opinions in our last meeting. We’re due to have our next one-on-one next Thursday. Can we discuss them then?”  
  • “I’ve noticed some conflict between you and Sasha, and I’d like to know more so I can provide the best support. Does it suit you to talk about this at our next one-on-one?”

2.Start with a positive

Going into the meeting with negativity will leave your employee feeling deflated and unmotivated. You don’t want to sugar-coat your concerns, but you do want to stay open-minded and respectful. Although there’s an issue you need to address, start by giving a compliment or acknowledging a strength you’ve noticed recently:

  • “I was impressed by how you supported Paul in his presentation last week.”
  • “I’ve noticed you’re getting great outcomes with our new client.”
  • “I appreciate how you’re turning up for work each day despite the tough time you’re going through.”
  • “I completely understand how hard it is for you to work with Sandra when you have very different approaches to this project.”

3.Address concerns calmly

To get the most out of your meeting, you need to communicate your concerns and ask for your employee’s feedback. Introduce the situation clearly and confidently, followed by an open-ended question to hear their thoughts.

  • “I’ve noticed there seems to be some tension between you and Nick, which is starting to impact the rest of the team. I’m curious to hear how you feel about the situation.”
  • “I was concerned by what you said in our team meeting last week – it appears you have some strong opinions about our new staff policy. I’m interested to hear your honest thoughts.”
  • “I’m concerned that you’ve missed a few deadlines recently. Can you tell me what’s been going on with you and how we can better support you to meet them going forward?”
  • “As you know, we have a stringent non-smoking policy, and I’m concerned you’re struggling to follow this. I value your work and don’t want this to become a bigger issue. Can we make a plan to better support you through this?”

4.Open space for communication

There’s no way of knowing how your employee will react or what they have to say. In some cases, they may apologise for their actions or share something difficult they’re going through. This might be enough to diffuse the situation. In those instances, you can try something like this:

  • “I appreciate your honesty. I can imagine how hard it was for you to share this with me.”
  • “I’m glad I know what’s going on with you – in future, I’d love you to feel you can share things like this with me.”
  • “I appreciate you acknowledging this conflict, and I’m happy we’ve come to a solution already.”

Negative responses

Sometimes, a tricky conversation has to get trickier before it resolves to a positive outcome. You’ll need to dig deeper if your employee comes back with a strong opinion on why they disagree. A good tip – try to avoid using words like ‘but’ or ‘however’, as this almost always devalues what you’ve said immediately before. Try these phrases.

  • “Thank you for bringing this to my attention – I understand your frustration. We need to come to a mutual agreement on how to handle this going forward. My proposal is this….”
  • “I can see you struggle to work in the same space as Jed. Would you be interested in shifting to the sales team to avoid this conflict?”
  • “This is a difficult situation for you. I want to talk with you and Alison together to see if we can reach a mutually positive outcome. Is that something you are comfortable with?”
  • “I hear your concerns. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this going forward?”

5.Reiterate the plan

Whatever agreement you come to, it’s a good idea to highlight this at the end of the meeting to cement a positive outcome. Think of it like a positive sandwich – you’ve opened with a compliment, got into the nitty gritty details of the issue, and can end on a positive that leaves both parties feeling optimistic and relieved.

  • “Great. I’m really glad we had this chat. I’ll have your desk moved tomorrow morning.”
  • “Thanks for this meeting – it’s good we got to the bottom of it. I’ll check in next week to see how you’re going.”
  • “Appreciate your attention on this. This afternoon I’ll…”

Handle tricky conversations seamlessly

Tricky conversations are often inevitable, but they don’t need to be as uncomfortable as we fear. The most important thing is to be prepared – separate fact from feeling, get clear on your desired outcome and approach the situation calmly and confidently. When done right, a tricky conversation can be an excellent tool for fostering positive outcomes.

If you’re facing conflict or a tricky situation but don’t know where to begin, get in touch – we’re always here to help.