LeadDev Together

Module 3 : Tackling difficult conversations

Module summary

Alongside all of the positives of being an engineering manager, there will always be times when you need to have difficult conversations. Managing underperformance, addressing bad behavior, and even letting people go are all possible, and likely inevitable, parts of your job. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, it’s your responsibility as a manager to develop the necessary skills so that you can do right by your teams. In this session, we’ll focus on practical ways you can prepare for and conduct difficult conversations.

Module 3 Takeaways and Homework

Takeaways from the module:

You learned the guiding principles essential to set successful and effective, difficult conversations, and preparation needs to happen in two different ways:  

  1. You should prepare yourself, thinking about how to approach this conversation. But you also need to prepare the person you’ll be having a conversation with so that expectations are set, and there are no surprises. 
  2. You should define the goals of the difficult conversation. Goals are a key factor in setting up a conversation for success, thinking about providing a direct outcome to the person you’re talking to. 
  • Both trust and empathy are part of the necessary pre-work to any potentially difficult conversation. Trust and empathy together foster an environment that allows open communication and empathetic behavior. 
  • You should approach these conversations with candor - but that candor must always be compassionate. 

As a group, you explored how to set an upcoming difficult conversation up for success following a step-by-step framework: 

  1. Building trust 
  2. Understand the problem and the impact
  3. Determine the desired outcome
  4. Plan your approach  

You should be able to apply these learnings to a variety of real-world situations, such as communicating change or how to resolve conflict in engineering teams. We hope you can confidently approach an upcoming difficult conversation using these frameworks. Having difficult conversations will always be tough, so make sure you prepare for it and chat it through with a colleague if you feel it would be beneficial. 

Next time you need to prepare for a difficult conversation, or if you want to individually practice what you discussed as a group, take some time to fill out this worksheet which is a more comprehensive version of the group exercise.


Creating the foundation for difficult conversations

Creating the foundation for difficult conversations

Beth Laing
13 mins
Communicating change: leading through the change curve

Communicating change: leading through the change curve

Carina Gerry
16 mins
Turning conflict into empathy on engineering teams

Turning conflict into empathy on engineering teams

Krystal Smith-Moore
Krystal Smith-Moore
11 mins