In the 20-plus years that I have been working in HR, there has always been one common activity, which, if it could have been tackled earlier would have saved so much time, money and difficulties generally within organisations.
That is: having difficult conversations with employees. You would rather not go there; “They may improve on their own”, “I am too busy for this”, “I will just ignore it and pretend it is not happening” are typical excuses I have heard for doing nothing about a situation. Of course, this only postpones the inevitable, because we all know that ultimately a situation will arise where it can no longer be ignored.
Avoiding such conversations simply exacerbates the underlying situation and will affect the workplace environment and productivity for everyone. The following tips will provide you with some great ideas to help you avoid getting into these situations again.
1. Deal with the uncomfortable
Few people like conflict. Having a difficult conversation can be hard if you aren’t sure how to approach the conversation to get it started and if you are worried that the employee may get upset and fail to take on board what you are saying. Perhaps the employee does not understand how their behaviour is affecting those around them or the environment in general. They may well appreciate the time and effort you have taken to have the conversation with them, which they may well understand you find difficult. At all times you need to focus on “What is the purpose of having this difficult conversation?” The answer should be to resolve the issue and to help the employee grow. With that thought behind every action, it should help make the process easier for you.
2. Prepare Well
Of course, you will already be aware that preparation is crucial in all aspects of life. And it is no different in this situation. Gather the facts and write them down, and collect relevant evidence where possible. It needs to be more than just your observations. It is far less likely that someone will disagree with facts than purely your observations. Outline to them what is expected and show them the gaps they have in achieving this. Use the opportunities provided by performance reviews to deal with situations wherever appropriate and timely. Ensure you document situations as they arise and make sure that you have policies in place for specific situations, for example, clear sickness reporting procedures. It is difficult to enforce rules and guidelines if they were never set to start with.
3. Be positive
The tone of the conversation should be about improvement and therefore should remain positive at all times. This should help prevent the employee becoming defensive and argumentative. Deliver the meeting as a chat rather than anything negative like a disciplinary. If it was you receiving the news, consider how you would like it delivered. Try and create a coaching dialogue so that your questions have a positive approach to open up the lines of communication. Don’t give the impression that they are “in trouble”, but instead collaborate on a plan for improvement so that they remain motivated. Ensure the meeting ends on a positive note, with the employee understanding they can do better and going away committed to achieving their goals.
4. Keep emotions in check
These meetings can easily become emotionally-charged, so you should make a great effort to keep your own feelings in check. This is achieved by focusing on facts. Your meetings should always be fact-based. Choose your words carefully; do not say things such as “I’m disappointed” as this adds a biased emotional element. If the meeting does become emotional, adjourn it; be sensitive and allow time for the situation to cool down, and reschedule the meeting.
5. Consider where the meeting should take place
This will set the tone of the meeting. Your office is usually a safe bet, or a conference room at the office; be guided by the culture of your organisation and how things generally work. Perhaps a chat over a cup of coffee or lunch would be better, but consider privacy. Consider if an off-site meeting is appropriate to the situation and the way your organisation operates. Choosing a safe environment that makes everyone feel comfortable is extremely important.
6. Should I have a witness?
If it is a quick chat, then this may not be necessary. If it is likely to be a longer meeting, then you generally should have a witness. If you are dealing with such things as behavioural issues or policy breaches or anything that may require disciplinary coaching interaction, then a witness is advised. If you have an HR function within the company, then an HR representative would be useful, or another manager. Never use another employee.
7. Ensure consistency of standards
Ensure all employees are treated equally and are held accountable to the same performance expectations. If the same situation arises with anyone else, deal with it straight away. Be fair, stick to the facts, treat everyone equally and there should be no concerns about singling out individuals.
8. Confidentiality is key
It is important to ensure confidentiality at all times. Only those directly involved should be aware of the situation. Determine what actually occurred by assessing the complaint, witness accounts and facts. There is always more than one side to a story. In situations involving a complaint, there are always three sides to the story; the employee who complained, the employee who was complained about and the truth. Be aware of this. If employees say they want the situation to remain confidential, ensure they understand that you cannot guarantee 100 percent confidentiality; depending on what they disclose, you may have a responsibility to take action or speak to others. Tell your employee you’ve received feedback regarding their offensive behaviour, but keep it general to protect everyone involved.
9. When all else fails
As stated above, if the situation gets out of hand, then end the meeting. If employees are upset and are likely to disrupt the rest of the office, consider sending them home for the day. This will allow everyone to calm down. Then regroup with your third-party witness and reflect on what happened in the meeting that led to the escalation so that you can correct it in future interactions with these employees.
Outsourcing HR can provide advice and support on difficult conversations
Professional advice and support from Outsourcing HR can help you achieve the optimum results from your difficult conversations. Contact us today for a no-obligation discussion. Simply call 07894-546333 or email Margaret Keane.