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How do you handle that difficult conversation with an employee?

By partnersinhr, Feb 4 2016 02:52PM


We’ve all been there: that moment when the time comes to have an awkward conversation with an employee. Perhaps they’ve been under-performing, struggling with personal problems or have had a complaint made about them; whatever the issue, you need to deal with it swiftly and sensitively before it gets out of hand.


In these instances, it’s important to communicate in an honest and professional manner. By delaying the inevitable, problems may persist; potentially harming your business’ productivity and/or reputation. What’s more, you’re denying that individual the chance to put things right.


With the above in mind, here’s our handy checklist to nailing those difficult conversations – so take a deep breath, and read on:


Be prepared


As well as establishing the facts surrounding the matter, you should read up on company policies ahead of the meeting and reflect on your knowledge of that employee and your experiences with them. You shouldn’t let personal feelings get in the way, but reminding yourself of their character will help you prepare for their reactions.


Choose a suitable environment


Find a space where you can have a private, face-to-face conversation. Stay away from potential eavesdroppers so that both of you can be open and honest. Sitting opposite your employee will keep things formal, but if it’s something particularly delicate it may help to sit next to them. Allowing enough time for the meeting so that the conversation isn’t hurried is also important.


Refer to company policies


You need to know your organisation’s HR policies and communicate these effectively during your conversation. Whether it’s your dress code, social media policy or sickness policy, understanding the company’s official guidelines will back up your statements and clarify any potential grey areas. If company policy has been breached to a serious degree, you may wish to get further support from management staff.


Provide relevant details


Offering accurate and relevant details about the matter will reaffirm your case and ensure the message resonates with the employee in question. However, in sensitive situations this should be handled with caution; for example, if a complaint has been made about that individual by a member of their team, they need to know what has been said – but not necessarily who said it.


Try to remain objective


This is arguably the most difficult piece of advice, particularly in smaller businesses where teams and managers become close. It’s crucial to avoid potential accusations of bias or discrimination by remaining as neutral and objective as possible; put your personal opinions aside and deal with the facts. Along with this goes actively listening to the employee’s views, remembering that there are two sides to every story.


Stay in control


Above all, YOU need to be in charge of the conversation, not the employee. Open the conversation confidently and set the tone, ensuring you focus on the behaviour itself rather than the person – this will help you control your emotions and deal with the matter at hand. Ask clear questions and do not respond to attempts to break down your defences or manipulate your views.


Managing these difficult conversations is so important to get right. Partners in HR are happy to offer advice and support during these challenges; our personalised HR services can help businesses across a wide range of industries, so get in touch today to see how we can help you.



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