8 January 2015

Tips for tackling difficult workplace conversations

At some point in your career you’ll be faced with a difficult employee conversation. Get some top tips on making it go smoothly.

Believe it or not, the most difficult conversations in the workplace aren’t to do with disciplinary hearings or negative performance reviews.

Instead alcoholism, domestic violence and discussions around mental health generally prove the most problematic, according to Dean Royles, director of HR and OD at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. So how can HR staff create an environment where these discussions can comfortably take place, while supporting line managers who need to tackle sensitive topics?

There’s no point brushing sensitive issues under the carpet. These things won’t just simply disappear or sort themselves out. In fact, research by Stanford University in California suggests that suppressing bad emotions is bad for business.

Be clear about the issue
First and foremost, you need to be clear. Do your homework and prepare for the conversation. Going in blindly is just asking for more trouble.

A lack of focus on the central issue will derail the conversation and sabotage your intentions, so make sure you stick to the matter at hand. There is nothing more important than the health and wellbeing of your staff.

Know your objective
What is the desired outcome of the chat? You should know exactly what you want to get out of the conversation before discussing difficult topics with members of staff.

Knowing when to start and when to stop is a good thing. You don’t want to pry too much into their personal lives, so maintain a comfortable distance throughout. The employee will open up and tell you what’s going on when they’re ready.

Keep your emotions in check
Sensitive topics can provoke a range of emotions. You need to keep yours in check while managing theirs.

Represent your business’s interests, but make sure you’re also acting as a rock for the employee to lean on. Remember that it’s best to acknowledge tears rather than ignore them.

Let the employee do most of the talking. After all, you’re there to listen. Gently guide the conversation with questions, but pay close attention to the answers.

Be comfortable with silence
Moments of silence are inevitable. But don’t feel the need to fill them with words – be comfortable with them.

Silence lets the message sink in. A pause, short or long, has a calming effect and can help us to better connect.

The little things matter... 
The smallest details can make all the difference to the success of the conversation. For instance, you need to choose the right place to meet.

Calling someone into your office isn’t always the best strategy as it can intimidate employees. Opt for neutral venues like a meeting room where you can sit opposite each other, or even a coffee shop.




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