Difficult Workplace Conversations at Medical Practices

“We need to talk…” Difficult Workplace Conversations

We all wish things (and people) simply worked the way they are supposed to, but sometimes there are issues that arise and must be dealt with. Sometimes those issues involve uncomfortable topics that must be addressed directly with a co-worker or employee. Poor job performance, tardiness and dress code violations could lead to difficult workplace conversations, and those don’t cover more sensitive issues that may require attention like offensive behavior, employee feuds and personal hygiene.


Most managers and HR administrators understand that problems like these will not likely go away on their own. The issues must be confronted head-on but with compassion and respect. This is where “positive confrontation” comes into play. Positive confrontation is a term used to describe an approach to difficult conversations and situations that will protect the employer and boost the company’s image while treating the employee with dignity and respect. It is about speaking powerfully and confidently while also treating the other party with compassion. Let’s take a look at some tactics sure to turn difficult workplace conversations into positive confrontations.

Have a Plan

It will be helpful to have a plan before initiating the conversation, however do not go as far as preparing a script. You will want to have a clear picture of the issue, an effective way to present it to the employee, facts and context to support your argument and a specific outcome you would like to achieve. However, the conversation will not likely go exactly as planned, and scripting out what you will say will inevitably cause the conversation to seem forced and unnatural. It is better to review the important points, take some notes to insure those points are covered, and be ready to respond to the conversation if it goes in an unexpected direction.

Meet in Private

Difficult workplace conversations are very often of a sensitive nature. Do not make an uncomfortable situation worse by talking in front of others. This is part of approaching the conversation with compassion. Also, pick a time for the conversation that is good for all parties and which will be less likely to result in interruptions.

Remain Calm

An employer who remains calm during a difficult conversation will help the entire exchange stay on a positive track and will inspire confidence in the employee that the issue is being taken seriously and will be dealt with professionally. Relaxing breathing exercises and taking the time to gather your thoughts before the confrontation will help you keep your composure if the conversations takes an ugly turn.


Multitasking is an excellent skill in the office, but when discussing a serious matter with an employee it is important to be free of distractions. Do not read email or answer texts and have your phone calls held if possible. Make it clear to your employee that you are listening intently and do not interrupt them when they are speaking.

Acknowledge the employee’s perspective and try to understand their take on the issue. Demonstrate that you are interested in their point of view. Be considerate and compassionate and understand that the conversation is also difficult for the other person.

Follow Up

You and your employee may have additional thoughts on the topic after the conversation is over. Follow up on the discussion after a little time has passed to ensure that you are both on the same page regarding expectations. Definitely praise the employee for their effort to remedy the issue. This could take the form of another meeting, an email or just a casual comment. The details of the situation should dictate how to best follow up on the matter.

By following these simple guidelines you can not only avoid having a difficult conversation turn into a hostile confrontation, but rather make it into a positive and productive encounter.

To learn more about how ProMD can make your practice run like a well-oiled machine, call 866-960-9558 or fill out our online form to request a billing assessment.

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