Difficult Conversations

by Barbara Buffton

How to close

Knowing how to end a difficult conversation can often be as tricky as knowing how to start it. You need to consider all the following points.

  • Soft landing

In the same way that we do not want to abruptly start a session, we do not want to end it abruptly either. It is good practice to summarise what’s been agreed, understood or discussed and whose responsibility it is to carry out any agreed actions.

  • Be very clear

You need to ensure that you both agree on the way forward. A time frame needs to be set in order to review progress or follow-up, if relevant.

  • Seek advice

In extreme cases, if the person continues not to take feedback on board, and if their performance and therefore team performance is suffering as a result, you may have to seek the advice of someone in your HR department.

It is important, however, not to take disciplinary action with individuals too early in the process. This can appear to be extremely heavy-handed and unfair. Good judgment is critical, and you should try to exhaust other options before taking this approach. It’s essential to record conversations held with the employee and keep reports that contain facts and figures, especially when disciplinary action may be taken.

  • Say thank you

Thank the other person for their time: ‘I appreciate you coming to see me/taking time to see me.’

  • Make any necessary notes

While things are fresh in your mind, it’s good practice to document what was discussed and agreed. This record may be essential should any disciplinary action be required or if there are any claims of harassment against you. Depending on the topic being discussed, it may be appropriate to have a note-taker in the meeting.

  • Follow-up

It is a good reminder to both parties concerned to have a follow-up email, stating what was agreed.

The topic or issue may not necessarily end when the conversation does. It can often take a person a while to digest what has been said. In this case, you need to be available for further discussion if required.

  • Informing others

Of course, there may be a need to let other people know that the issue is being dealt with or has been dealt with. If you are acting on behalf of others (for example, if colleagues have come to you and asked you to deal with the issue), you need to find time and space to inform them of the outcome. This inevitably needs to happen when the person in question is not around, to avoid embarrassment.