No one looks forward to having tough conversations with employees.  Suddenly, you are faced with the reality that you as employer have to deal with potentially unpleasant workplace issues. Many owners will choose to avoid these conversations but that will just cause additional stress in your business. The typical manager spends 25-40 percent of his or her time dealing with workplace conflicts -- that's one to two days of every work week. 

But, even worse, unresolved employee conflict issues can severely impact the productivity of everyone in your business. Especially for the solo owner, time spent dealing with employee problems will divert you from the important day-to-day running of the company.  Allowing these issues to persist by avoiding the difficult conversations will only create a toxic atmosphere. Try these 5 tips to tackle these issues without permanently damaging employee relationships.

1. First you need to identify the specific problem and go into the meeting prepared to tackle the specific issue.

Have the facts and be prepared to state your required resolution. If you are prepared, you will be less likely to be diverted onto a tangent. If you are prepared with your facts than you will be less nervous in this potentially combative situation. Don't get emotionally side-tracked. Stay professional and calm. Be supportive but not apologetic. You need to manage the emotions effectively by respecting the employee. Don't get sucked into a combative situation.

2. Think about the location.  

Try to meet in a neutral area rather than confronting the employee from behind your desk.  Request the meeting at a convenient time for both you and the employee and don't schedule it too far into the future.  

3. Be positive and non-confrontational when delivering the feedback to the employee.

Emphasize how a change in performance or attitude will add to the success of the business. Listen to any feedback from the employee but don't allow for any sidetracking of the issue. Make sure that the employee understands what you expect to change.

4. If the meeting is informal, then you might not want to put the issues into writing.

However, quickly follow up with other employees to make sure that the situation has been resolved. If the matter stays unresolved, then you will need to meet with the employee more formally and get a written agreement for resolution. You also might want to have another person present if it is necessary to schedule another meeting.

5. Distinguish between sub-par performance that may be creating conflict among employees and actual misconduct .

There should be no level of tolerance for misconduct and that should be communicated very clearly to the employee. Performance issues may have to be handled over a period of time in order to see if performance will improve. Be very clear with your expectations and ask why the performance is not up to standard. Try to avoid performance issues between long-term employees and new employees from creating a strained atmosphere. Privately communicate to the more senior employees that the newer employee may need a period of time for a "learning curve". See if you can get confidential reports on the new employee's progress.  

A calm and productive atmosphere is essential in a small business environment. Don't allow employee conflicts to fester and don't allow an emotionally charged workplace to disrupt the operation of your business. Handle all conflict situations promptly and privately.  Developing your skill in managing difficult conversations will improve everyone's performance.