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Having those difficult conversations at work – those “ground open up and swallow me’ conversations

Most employers and managers will absolutely dread having to raise a difficult issue with an employee. No matter how confident and assured you are as a manager, if you have to speak to an employee about personal hygiene you will understandably want to run and hide.

But ignoring or putting off tackling tricky issues will only make them worse. To be an effective manager you need to have the ability to be able to talk about sensitive issues which can often be highly emotive. Not dealing with them can lead to bad performance management and bad employee relations which will ultimately harm your business.

So what could count as a difficult conversation?

  • Addressing substandard performance
  • Raising issues about inappropriate dress
  • A body odour or a bad breath situation
  • Talking too loudly (and other irritating, atmosphere-damaging habits)
  • Fallout from an office romance
  • Sexual harassment complaints
  • Workplace conflict between two staff members
  • Refusing annual leave or flexible working requests
  • Redundancy or dismissal

Cringing at the thought of these yet? Do not bury your head in the sand, you are not alone and we are here to help. Here are our tips for dealing with difficult conversations.

  1. Identify the problem and decide to face up to it!
  2. Prepare. Establish the facts, check your policies and procedures and read your employee’s file.
  3. Do some more preparation. Be clear about exactly what the problem is and the impact it is having on the business and their colleagues. Identify your ideal outcome, and think about what it is that you are most worried about happening so that you can try to avoid that scenario.
  4. Be in control. You need to control the meeting and how it progresses. It’s not about winning or losing so negotiate if appropriate. But you set the terms and remain in control of your emotions or temper too!
  5. Stick to a clear agenda. First, the introduction – set the tone you want for the meeting. Second, explain the issues and evidence. Third, ask for an explanation or their contribution. And fourth, agree a way forward.
  6. Document and communicate the outcomes and monitor the progress.

If you would like some training or support in handling these tricky employee issues then just give us a call. Bizarrely, we actually quite enjoy them!