Everyone wants to avoid difficult conversations.

Unfortunately in the world of people management, it is very rarely possible. Difficult conversations are just that! Generally, the topic is something of a sensitive nature, that neither person really wants to talk about. Ultimately a discussion is required in order to address a particular issue.

Firstly, issues in the workplace can arise for a variety of different reasons. They might include:

  • a disagreement with a colleague
  • incompetence in the role
  • underperformance
  • inappropriate behaviour
  • personal issues or circumstances outside of work.

Step back & have a plan

Secondly, difficult conversations should be tailored to suit the particular matter being addressed. We can never fully predict how they will go, but it is advisable to have a plan and a process in mind. Take a step back. That is the best possible advice that any HR Professional can offer in addressing a difficult topic. Assess the situation before acting and try not to act on emotion.

Thirdly, you should first identify the issue that has raised the need for the conversation. Perhaps there has been an incident, or there has been a recurring cause for concern with a team member. For example, one of your team members appears to have purposefully neglected to complete assigned duties. He or she may have conducted themselves in a manner that goes against company policy.

What has led to this?

Now ask yourself, what has happened in the lead up to this point?

  • Is there is conflict within the team?
  • Has the individual received appropriate training?
  • Are they acting intentionally?
  • Or could it be that there is something external to the work environment that should be considered?

Take emotion out of it

Moreover, you may be frustrated on some level that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. This means you may be emotionally invested in the situation through anger, impatience, or resentment. One of the most important things to remember during this whole process is to remain calm. You want to avoid making the matter worse or provoking a negative reaction. The last thing you want is to cause further upset or distress to your team member. If you find yourself in this situation, try to remind yourself that acting on emotion will only inhibit a positive outcome.

Before approaching them, have your facts lined up. These include:

  • dates of incidences
  • times they took place
  • training records
  • other proof to validate the need for a conversation.

In fact, have a suggested plan for improvement or solution in your mind. It may change after you have spoken to your team member. However, it will demonstrate to them that you are willing to resolve the matter.

Keep Calm

Finally, when you do sit down to have the conversation, maintain your composure. Get straight to the point, using empathy or compassion when appropriate or required. Your team member may or may not appreciate the conversation. Remember, it will be just as difficult for them as it is for you!

  • Highlight the need for the conversation
  • Raise your concern
  • Suggest a plan of action.

In conclusion, while we can never make difficult conversations easy, there are steps we can take to help reach a positive outcome for all!

Thank you for reading. If you would like further advice and guidance on any of the issues raised here please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Aoife Hanlon, HR Executive

Email: aoife@corporatehrireland.com

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