5 Conversations You Need to Have with Employees – but Avoid

Admit it: You’ve put off a conversation with an employee because it was uncomfortable.

It’s always the right time and place to talk about things that come naturally in the workplace – projects, customers, competitors, career paths, the weather and last night’s game.

But it never seems like the right time to talk about the things that don’t come so easily – such as awkward relationships, conflict and what employees really think about your workplace.

Real office worker on meeting

In the end, the consequences of not having these unique conversations can affect everything from team dynamics to morale to productivity.

“How often do you have a conversation with your team that consists of something more than what’s being done, what needs to get done and what they didn’t do?” asks Mary Jo Asmus, author of Working With Your Executive Coach.

“Slow down and include some conversations that are a level deeper,” Asmus says.

Here are five conversations that improve employee engagement and team cohesiveness – plus ways to get them started.

1. Relationships

As a woman in charge, employees probably start lots of conversations about relationships with you. And they mostly come in the form of complaints: “He drives me crazy when he …” “She never does …”

Healthy conversations about improving relationships– which have a huge impact on teamwork – can bring to light concerns before they’re serious problems.

Ask your employees individually or in small groups:

  • “What relationships can be improved to help us reach our goals?”
  • “What’s one sentence that describes our team relationship?”

2. Conflict

Conflict is one of those issues that’s often avoided because it’s taxing to address.

Women who are leaders sometimes don’t discuss tension because they subconsciously hope it will blow over on its own. Employees might not bring it up (before it blows up) because they can’t put their finger on what’s happening and why.

But leaders need to address small tensions before they’re a much bigger problem.


  • “What conflicts within the team aren’t we talking about?”
  • “How will we manage conflict now and going forward?”

3. Development

Most leaders have conversations about career paths during reviews.

But many leaders don’t cover development – the realistic steps and training that need to be taken and resources that need to be provided–as often or as in depth as it should be.

You want to expand the career and development conversation to help employees flourish. When you do that, their respect for you grows and they’ll increasingly support your decisions and ideas.

Ask and follow through on these questions:

  • “What do you imagine your future looks like?”
  • “What can you do to move toward that future and how can I help?”

4. Preferences

As a woman in charge, you’re busy making sure things get assigned and done. It leaves you with less time to get feedback on the work from the people actually doing it.

An occasional conversation about their preferences helps to identify:

  • the right variety of work
  • new challenges to keep it interesting
  • the right amount of freedom to do the work, and
  • the most meaningful work

Ask employees during reviews and when performance slides a bit:

  • “What part of your job makes you feel most accomplished?”
  • “In what area would you like to expand your skills or knowledge?”

5. Ethics

Conversations about ethics almost don’t happen until after a trust is broken.

After the lapse in — or total lack of — judgment, leaders might ask an employee, “Why did you do that?” “What made you think it was OK?” “How can we recover from this?”

It’s important to review a company or department code of ethics regularly. And it’s smart to dig into employees’ personal code of ethics to make sure they align – and point out any disconnects.

Ask employees in private conversations:

  • “What ethics guide you in your work?”
  • “How do you hold yourself to our code of ethics and your personal ethics?”

If you keep communication flowing on these important topics, you can avoid issues — such as disengagement, dissension or turnover — that often emerge when they’re brushed under the rug.