The Secret to Holding Constructive Conversations with Employees

Secret to holding conversations with employeesThe joy of being a manager lies in the insidious nature of the job. You are faced with a dynamic range of interpersonal, personal, and group issues to resolve.

And you thought it was about managing the work!

What we all learn, sooner or later, that being a manger is all about people. Just like an expert poker player, you need to play the table. The cards, not so much.

But just to make it more fun, we’ll give you little to no training or practice. Go ahead, jump in. The water’s fine.

Of course, you have great experience as an employee. You’ve worked for all kinds of managers. From that you can certainly infer all the good and bad techniques and sort out your own perfect style.

Except that once the tables are turned, you find it’s a whole different ball game.

Therein lies the challenge. And the fun of working to solve complex problems vital to success, unfolding in real-time on top of, underneath, and intertwined in the work you and the team are responsible for.

Much of your managing will come down to often tricky, sometimes difficult, and always high-stakes one-on-one conversations with your employees.

Which is why the ability to hold constructive conversations with your staff is a crucial management skill to build.

Fortunately, there is an easy three-step framework you can use for this.

It all comes down to:

1) Attitude=> 2) =>Approach=> 3) Follow up

Let’s look at this simple, but effective 3-step approach in detail.

1) Go into the conversation with a positive attitude.

Your frame of mind matters a lot in these conversations. As the manager, you are the leader. And you need to lead this conversation to a positive outcome.

That doesn’t mean you have to be all sunshine and roses. Or that you have to be all warm and smiley.

What this means is that you need to think of yourself as being helpful. Helpful to the employee, your team, and your company.

If you are intending for, and expecting, a positive outcome, then all you are trying to do in this conversation is to help things along toward that outcome.

First and foremost, aim to help the employee in this conversation. That might mean being supportive. It might mean being tough. It might mean questioning or clarifying.

But, before we jump too far ahead, you need to be sure to use a good approach. That’s the next step in the process.

2) The best approach is usually to listen as much as possible.

Secret to holding conversations with employeesYou are first trying to understand and gain information, perspective, and insights from the other person’s point of view.

Nothing you say matters much if the other person doesn’t feel heard. And whatever you say is not going to be good if you didn’t gather this information.

Most of the time, you actually want to use an approach where you literally try to say as little as possible.

You need to initiate the conversation, broach the topic, and raise the issue. But then you need to listen. And listen good.

One of the best ways you can do this is to let the conversation flow naturally. You aren’t aiming for a specific outcome of this meeting other than to gather information.

You are on an exploration. So you can guide things a bit, but mostly it’s about discovery.

As part of that discovery, be sure to ask as many follow up questions as possible as the conversation unfolds.

You might ask for examples. Or for the person to walk you through a scenario. You should probably ask about how they are feeling or why they feel a certain way. That can be very powerful and enlightening.

You can afford this exploration and not worry about a specific outcome or conclusion right now, because of the next step in the process.

3) You must follow up.

Nothing happens all in one conversation. And it’s up to the manager to respond (after some thought) and to keep the conversation going.

Being a good manager isn’t about having the right answer at your fingertips all the time. It’s about caring, building trust, and demonstrating long-term commitment.

When you open up this conversation, you are opening up a series of conversations. You are demonstrating that when people open up to you, you listen and you intend to do something about it.

Not a knee-jerk reaction. But a thoughtful follow up. Over time.

Conclude this particular conversation with that stated overtly. And then show that you mean it by continuing the conversation later on.

You are the leader, and you need to be the one taking charge of that process.


Being a manager means leading people more than anything else. The rest of the work is still important, but all of that happens through people.

So it’s a good idea to have a thoughtful and effective approach for holding constructive conversations with employees.

First, you should make sure that you adopt a positive attitude. Your frame of mind is one of the crucial elements that frames the entire conversation. And having a positive attitude, helps everything else to be constructively aimed toward good outcomes.

Then, you should approach the conversation to maximize listening. People need to feel heard. And you need to gather as much information as possible in order to be as helpful as you can.

A listening attitude is good in those ways, and it helps you to avoid jumping to conclusions and solutions.

Finally, you should take responsibility for follow up. If anything really productive is going to happen, you are going to need to lead the way. You will need to wrap up the conversation with an intent to follow up.

And then you need to follow up. That’s the manager’s job.

All of this shows your staff that when people open up to you, you listen and you do something about it. And your staff is watching what you do more than what you say.

Which gives you the credibility and influence you need to lead over the long term.