It’s your job to hold people to account: Managing tough conversations

It’s your job to hold your people to account

Tough conversations within a business context are inevitable and no business owner, leader or manager enjoys engaging in a difficult conversation with their staff.

 Dealing with poor performance, attitude, behaviour are some of the types of conversations that people often dread. Many avoid these because they don’t know how to manage them, worry that they might upset the other person, that it might lead to a confrontation or may damage future relationships.

However such problems just don’t fade away. They fester, resulting in a lack of respect and personal accountability, loss of productivity, performance and an impact on the bottom line.

Failure to hold your people to account will result in staff questioning your confidence and ability to lead. It is your job and your responsibility to undertake these tough conversations and to hold your staff to account for their actions and behaviours.

  You can only develop the skills and techniques in holding such conversations by practicing them. Use them as an opportunity to develop your skills, your leadership and to build relationships and engage with your staff.

Some suggestions on managing tough conversations

Preparing for the conversation

  1. Set aside enough time and a place with minimal distraction for the conversation to happen
  2. Define the purpose of the conversation and the desired outcome
  3. Practice what you are going to say. Visualise and replay the conversation in your mind’s eye with the outcome that you would like. Anticipate how the other person may behave, feel, react and explore how you will deal with these
  4. Be rational, objective, acknowledge and manage your emotions


  1. Set the scene and tell your story without any interruptions
  2. State the issue in a clear concise way
  3. Use facts and evidence and describe actions and behaviours and their resulting consequences
  4. Explain what is at stake and the impact on you, colleagues, team, customers, the business …
  5. Be honest and acknowledge your contribution to the issue


  1. Leave your assumptions behind and be curious and open and ask the other person to tell you his story. Give him the space and opportunity to do this.
  2. Listen to understand and clarify your understanding by asking open-ended questions, summarising and paraphrasing. Acknowledge that you have heard and understood and clarify your position
  3. Emotions often run high during tough conversations. Be self-aware, acknowledge and manage yours. Practice centering if you become anxious. Be aware of the other person’s reactions and manage your own response to them. Acknowledge that you cannot control their emotions. This is why anticipating possible scenarios, emotions and practicing and visualising your responses to them will help you to deal with the situation more effectively. Remain calm and  in control even when the other person is not as this will help to bring him back to the centre     


  1. Get the person to come up with possible solutions
  2. Agree on outcomes and next steps within a time frame
  3. Get the person to explore any obstacles and how he might deal with them
  4. Be clear about the consequences if there is no resulting change
  5. Arrange a date and time to follow-up
  6. Observe and monitor for change and give praise when appropriate

What is your experience of managing a difficult conversation? How did you deal with it? 


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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One Response to It’s your job to hold people to account: Managing tough conversations

  1. Clare Manning says:

    Great blog! I would add that it’s important to make sure they understand what you need to happen and why. It’s equally important to find out what lies behind the poor behaviour or performance. In my experience, What is easily visible is not usually the whole story and uncovering hidden needs can unlock the way forward.

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