When it comes to strategic human resource management, at some point, every manager or HR professional has to sit down a worker to have a hard conversation. Many leaders hold off speaking with employees about difficult issues because they are unsure of how to handle these types of situations. Should they apologize to show empathy? Is it acceptable to just email the worker? Whether it is a termination or a performance review, HR professionals and company management must walk a fine line. Supervisors who know how to handle tough conversations and employ effective employee management are able to ensure positive outcomes to difficult meetings.
Here are four strategies for having tough conversations with employees:
Hold Conversations in Private to Keep Confidentiality
Every time managers need to have a meeting with workers about sensitive topics, they need to do so in private. This keeps the situation between the supervisor and the employee. Co-workers shouldn’t know if an employee is not doing well unless the manager feels it is in the person’s best interest to let others know, and even then there may be legal consequences for not maintaining confidentiality. Having conversations where other people can listen into the meeting can cause the employee to feel as if he or she is not being respected. Being compassionate and empathetic can go a long way to the worker understanding the points his or her boss or HR professional is making during their meeting.
Stay Brief and to the Point
Managers don’t want to beat around the bush when they enter a difficult meeting. According to a review of an HR management book in Forbes, being truthful right from the get-go can prevent any miscommunication and let the worker know exactly what the issue is. The article suggests leaders follow a simple, three-step process: facts, feelings and identity. Stating the facts right from the beginning gets everyone on the same page.
However, managers need to be careful how they plunge ahead with the conversation. Being overly critical can cause only further issues. According to Forbes, HR consultants advise supervisors should always try to achieve “clean, clear, lucid truth.”
According to an article in Inc. magazine, compassion is a key trait of effective leaders. Professionals who show they are empathetic to their workers’ needs and feelings are more likely to receive loyalty from those employees and enhanced productivity. In an article for Harvard Business Review, leadership consultant Peter Bregman wrote managers need to approach difficult situations from the employees’ point of view.
For example, the Forbes article explained how one manager would use the phrase “I’m not loving that” to get right to the point of an issue without being too harsh.
Seek Guidance of Legal Counsel Where Necessary
Leaders shouldn’t hesitate to receive advice from legal counsel when appropriate. Some types of difficult conversations, like terminating an employee, can have legal consequences if supervisors don’t handle the situation correctly. Speaking to lawyers or legal experts can prevent professionals from inadvertently sticking their feet in their mouths.
Keep HR in the Loop
Perhaps most importantly, managers should take advantage of HR professionals’ knowledge and experience with speaking to workers. HR should role play the conversation so the appropriate adjustments to leaders’ delivery can be made. According to Forbes, everything from body language to tone of voice is important during sensitive meetings. HR professionals can ensure managers understand what they can and cannot say, as well as how to correctly get to the point without sacrificing empathy.
Managers shouldn’t hesitate to speak to workers about issues that need to be addressed, but they need to do so carefully and make sure they are not creating further problems.