The Law @ Work

Tips For Handling Difficult Conversations at Work

Managers are sometimes faced with difficult employee situations that lead to tough conversations in the workplace.  It is important that members of management, including HR representatives, have the tools and appropriate strategy to handle these situations head on.  Here are a few tips to prepare you for your next difficult conversation.

Deal With the Issue

The first step to success in having a difficult employee conversation in the workplace is to deal with the issue head on.  Focus on the behavior and facts, rather than opinions and emotions.  This means you have to be objective and gather all of the facts from the start.  Try to get to the root of the problem, as this will form the outline for the difficult conversation.

Establish a Plan

After receiving the initial complaint, but before addressing the issue with the employee, you must establish a plan for having the difficult conversation.  Look to determine whether there is an applicable policy, whether it may have been violated, and what the consequences are for such a violation.  Think about what you would like the results of the conversation to be and have a way to implement that desired outcome.  One specific example would be to implement a performance improvement plan for an employee who has difficulty performing his or her job. There also must be a plan in place for maintaining professionalism.  It may be important to consider having a witness or have a specific way to end the conversation should the employee become hostile.

Don’t Delay

After learning of the issue and developing a plan, you should promptly address the issue by setting up a meeting – more than one if necessary – and gathering all documentation, if available.  These meetings should be set up in private locations and at times that limit embarrassment for the employee.  Do not delay, however, as timing can be everything and it is essential that the issue be resolved promptly to limit its impact on the workplace.

Be Clear

The time has come to have the conversation.  One good rule of thumb:  stick to the facts.  Also, remember to keep it simple because employees sometimes have negative reactions to such conversations.  Try not engage in debate, but rather use your listening skills.  Once an employee has stopped speaking, be sure to clarify what you heard that employee state.

Document, Document, Document!

The conversation is over, but the most important step has yet to occur.  You must document each step of the process, because if it is not written down, it did not happen!  In your documentation, be sure to include the date, including the year; time; who was present; the substance of the conversation; and sign the documentation.  Documentation is the key to a successful defense should an employee decide to file a claim against your business.

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