Leaders: Should You Avoid Difficult Workplace Conversations?

Leaders: Should You Avoid Difficult Workplace Conversations?

Managing people is not always going to be plain sailing.  Sometimes the temptation might be to avoid difficult workplace conversations in the hope of sidestepping confrontation. However, avoiding these conversations can lead to embedded disciplinary problems and other issues, that will ultimately have a detrimental effect on a business’ productivity.

“One problem can be that a manager, or business owner, simply isn’t sufficiently equipped for this level of people management,” observes Lisa Gower of Ubuntu HR.

“Often SMEs start out as one person’s vision but when they expand, a whole new set of leadership skills will be necessary, alongside setting up an administrative infrastructure to manage employees.”


Awkward Employees

Difficult people come in many varieties and can be awkward for many different reasons.  You can, however, broadly categorise the types of awkwardness that keep cropping up.


“Research has identified distinct types of awkward staff member within an organisation, and suggests that there’s more confidence in HR handling difficult situations than line managers”

Lisa Gower, Ubuntu HR


By far the most commonplace awkward employee was identified as the moaner. This is someone who finds fault with everything and is resistant to change.

“The danger here is that if managers simply accept that this is how the person is, their negative attitude will spread throughout the workplace. This sort of negativity is contagious,” Lisa says.

Another issue is dishonesty, with employees who routinely lie as being another significant awkward type. Workplace liars range from those who make false excuses for poor time-keeping to more serious issues such as theft.

Bullies are another category of awkwardness, and many find them the hardest of all to manage.

Employees who feel over-burdened and stressed out – worriers – are a large category, and another potentially tricky one to talk to, as it can touch on a range of issues around employee welfare and productivity.


“There are other categories and issues that give rise to difficult workplace conversations, such as personal hygiene, drug and alcohol abuse, and improper internet use, and while some might seem less urgent than others, all have the potential to be increasingly disruptive to your culture and climate at work.”

Lisa Gower, Ubuntu HR


How to Act

Avoiding the difficult conversations arising from awkward employees simply shifts the problem somewhere else, where it can potentially grow and become a bigger issue.

“What should define your actions in these circumstances is a clear set of policies, procedures and guidelines,” Lisa advises.


“While individual issues might seem character-led, you can still guide how you approach them through a clear interpretation of your company policy”

Lisa Gower, Ubuntu HR


What Lisa stresses is the importance of differentiating between genuine grievances and awkwardness and attitude problems.

“Of course, you should listen to your employees,” she states, “but they should also listen to you. That’s why having the difficult conversation is essential.”


Ubuntu HR provide outsourced HR solutions to SMEs.  To maintain your climate at work, while they effectively deal with your difficult workplace conversations, please call them on 0161 478 8293 or visit ubuntuhr.co.uk.