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The Champion Forum Podcast

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TCF026: Navigating Tough Conversations Part 2

Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast! In this episode, Jeff explains the STABEN method for navigating difficult conversations. Following this formula will help you prepare for a difficult conversation so that you can approach it with confidence and frame your criticism in a way that will help your employee grow.


S - Source

  • Determine what is causing the conflict.

  • Identify one main issue and stick to it.

T - Time and Place

  • Identify the best time and place to have your discussion.

  • Consider the tone that you want the meeting to have when choosing the location.

  • If you are having a more general discussion, it can be helpful to go to a coffee shop or other off-site location. Off-site discussions can also protect employees from embarrassment.

    • If you are addressing a serious policy violation or instituting a formal improvement plan, an on site meeting would be better, either in your office or a conference room.

    • If you are meeting with a peer, choose a conference room over an office.


  • Gain the employee’s attention by starting the meeting with something positive.

  • If you have a negative approach, your employees are more likely to become defensive and argumentative.

  • Always remember that the goal is always to help the employee get back on the right path. Even when you are correcting them, keep the end goal in mind.

  • Provide them with the tools and resources necessary for improvement and express your support.


  • It is important to stay on task and address the behavior specific to the conflict and avoid discussing other behaviors.

  • Don’t use generalizations like “never” and “always.” If you can provide dates, times, and specific conduct, you will be in a much better position.


  • Be aware of your body language and your tone of voice.

  • Explain the situation using “I” statements rather than “YOU” statements so you can avoid bringing your emotions into the discussion or sounding accusatory.

  • Try using this format: When you (specific behavior), I felt like (the result of their action).


  • Explain what you NEED to have happen moving forward.

  • This feedback should be very direct and concise.

  • Have them repeat back to you what they need to change to avoid any confusion and eliminate the possibility of the conversation being manipulated.

After the Discussion:

  • Go back to business as usual immediately. Remember that your meeting was not a reflection on the person, only their performance.

  • Reiterate your support in a follow-up discussion.

  • Be consistent with your standards.

  • Continue to show your commitment to your employee’s success.

Q: How has a manager helped support you after a difficult conversation? What do you think a leader can do to show their support to an employee after a difficult conversation? Is there a way to help the employee remember that the correction was not a personal attack?

Q: What do you think a manager can do to unintentionally derail a difficult conversation?

Q: What can a leader do if the employee reacts negatively toward the conversation despite their best efforts?

Application Activities

Work through the STABEN method navigating a conflict for the following scenarios with a mentor, co-worker, or friend. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer for each of these scenarios. Consider your workplace culture and established rules when dealing with each of these situations. If you can, go over your responses with a supervisor or mentor to see what they might suggest that you do differently based on their experience.

  1. Your employee Jessica is habitually late and other employees are starting to get agitated. You have talked to her about the issue before, but it has continued. You need to implement an HR policy regarding how to handle staff members who are habitually late.

  2. Kevin and Henry got into a shouting match during their lunch break. The altercation occurred on the street outside the building. You have never had an issue with either of these employees before this incident.

  3. You have received word that your employee Jordan has been gossiping about other employees. Several other employees have confided in you that they are uncomfortable with her actions. You want to do something to address the situation and make your other employees feel safe, but so far, the accusations are here-say.

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