Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

3.2 Difficult Discussions - Scope

A fundamental skill for all employees is to have “difficult discussions” in ways that are constructive and productive for all those involved.

Recent reports into the NSW government sector found there was much interest in having:

  • Better training for managers in how to have difficult conversations with staff (Schott Report)
  • Better support from agencies for employees when they have difficult discussions (Schott Report and Ethics Stocktake)
  • Better communication between senior managers and employees (2012 People Matter Survey)
  • Stronger “open speak up” cultures, systems and practices in NSW agencies (Ethics Stocktake).

For details see:


This guide has been developed to assist NSW government sector employees to have difficult discussions that result in ethically informed and effective decisions.

It focuses on four common types of difficult discussion: 

  • Effective Dialogue
  • Saying No Constructively
  • Giving and Receiving Negative Feedback
  • Giving Frank and Fearless Advice.

The guide also identifies actions which agencies can take to ensure their corporate cultures, systems and work practices encourage and legitimise ethically informed difficult discussions.

It does not cover discussions that concern: 

  • Corruption or criminal matters: To discuss concerns about these matters, contact the relevant officer within your agency in the first instance. However, if you do not feel comfortable reporting the matter internally, you can contact the following agencies directly: for concerns about corrupt conduct contact the ICAC (; for concerns about maladministration contact the Ombudsman (; for concerns about serious and substantial waste contact the Auditor General (; and for concerns about criminal matters contact the NSW Police Force (
  • Personal matters: To discuss personal matters (such as balancing work/study/life pressures; self development needs; and private matters affecting work) contact HR, or alternatively, contact your agency’s Employee Assistance Program (for confidential counselling and support)
  • Industrial matters (concerning pay and conditions): To discuss industrial matters contact the Human Resources unit in your agency, or your professional body or union.