Eight (Overlooked) Tips for Managing that Dreaded ‘Downsizing Conversation’.


As a manager, you already have or will be at some point required to discuss such sensitive issues as ‘voluntary’ early retirement, job redeployment or other changes that directly impact on a person’s employment circumstances. These conversations can be exceedingly uncomfortable not only for the impacted person, but for you too.

You might find yourself uncomfortable because of any or all of the following;

  • You have mixed feelings about the decisions (or the change itself) to begin with
  • You have a personal relationship with the person that makes it hard to ‘do the deed’
  • You’re concerned that you don’t possess the skills to do it right
  • You’re generally uncomfortable with conflict or ‘sensitive conversations’
  • You’re afraid that you won’t be able to manage the other’s person’s strong emotional reaction (crying, anger, blame etc)

Here’s what You Can Do To Manage the Conversation Effectively:

  1. Pause for self-examination. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or anxious about an upcoming conversation, stop and examine your own thoughts and feelings. These might be the true source of your unease. The more you are aware of your own reactions and underlying feelings, the better you will be able to navigate the conversation.
  2. Express your own feelings.  It’s okay to include an expression of personal feelings in your actual conversation. “I am sad to see you leave” or “This conversation is difficult for me because I know this is not something that you want” or, “This is not a conversation I would ever have wanted to have with you” are appropriate types of self-expression. Sharing your sentiments (appropriately) will help both you and the other person feel that you are bringing your ‘whole self’ into the conversation.
  3. Allow for the other person’s expression of feelings.  Do not try to block the other person from expressing his or her feelings, no matter how intense that expression might be. The more you allow for the expression of feelings, the more the person will feel understood and the easier it will be for them – and you – to move forward.
  4. Listen with both ears.  Sometimes the best you can do is to offer an understanding ear. Don’t rush the process. Listen to what the person is trying to express – it is respectful and supports the person’s sense of dignity (and yours too). There is an old saying that fits well here: you were given two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion.
  5. Communicate the information clearly.  Make sure that the information is conveyed clearly and concisely. The person you’ll be talking to is likely to be experiencing a physiological stress response, which will compromise their ability to understand you correctly or think with their full capacity. The clearer you are in your communication, the better.
  6. Ensure that the person understood the information.  Given the physiological response the person might be experiencing, you will need to ensure they understood the information you are conveying and the choices facing them. Make sure to pause regularly and check for comprehension in a respectful and sensitive way.
  7. Seek support before or after the conversation. In preparing for the conversation or debriefing it after it is finished, you might need the support of a trusted colleague, your own manager, an HR specialist, or a family member. Don’t hesitate to access the resources available to you – they will give you strength and sage advice.
  8. Make sure to take good care of yourself.  The impact of downsizing and restructuring can be emotionally and physically intense for managers. The conversations with employees whose lives will be altered as a result of the conversations are going to add to that stress. Make sure you take good for yourself and keep up any habits that help you maintain your stress resiliency!

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