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Tips for Handling Difficult Employee Discussions

By October 17, 2013 February 19th, 2015 No Comments

Whether your company is an early-stage start-up or an established business, as a manager, you will need to be prepared to talk to your employees about difficult or uncomfortable issues. Performance issues, inappropriate language, tardiness, poor dress choices, personal hygiene, sexual harassment, or bullying can all create the need for a “tough talk.”

Avoiding such conversations can adversely impact your company’s productivity and employee morale, so it is essential that employee issues be resolved quickly and directly. Unfortunately, not every manager is a natural born communicator and many struggle when it comes to tough conversations.  Here are some practical tips for having a successful employee conversation about a difficult topic.

Tough Talk Tips

  • Arrange a time with the employee and designate a neutral place to meet that offers some privacy, such as an office or conference room.
  • The best approach is direct, respectful, and simple. Don’t engage in small talk. Get straight to the point.
  • If the discussion will address a legally sensitive issue, considering having someone else in the room as a witness.
  • If the issue is performance-based, be sure to have your documentation ready for reference. Remember to focus on the person’s behavior and not him/her personally.
  • Be polite and direct with the employee to let him/her know the purpose of the meeting. It’s okay to acknowledge that the conversation may be uncomfortable or the feedback may be difficult to hear.
  • If the discussion is addressing complaints from co-workers or colleagues about the person’s dress, behavior, or conduct, do not bring the complaining parties into the conversation. Take responsibility for the conversation and address the offending issue head on.
  • Have in hand the company’s HR policies and handbook, which you can use to remind the employee about the company’s position on the issue being discussed. You can ask the employee to read the handbook after your conversation to ensure s/he is clear on what is expected of him/her while at work.
  • Be prepared to listen and understand the employee’s point of view. Sometimes the behavior is the result of other forces or there are underlying reasons that warrant explanation.
  • Set a course of action with deadlines for improvement and clearly communicate any needed follow-up actions.
  • If the issue is not resolved, have a follow up meeting to remind the employee of your agreement or provide some personal coaching. If all else fails, disciplinary action may be needed.

A good leader can learn to have difficult conversations in such a way that not only resolves the issue quickly but also does so in a respectful, proactive way, to the benefit of the employee and the business..