How to Handle Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

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How to Handle Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

With many small and medium sized businesses considering changes to employee terms and conditions of employment and the possibility of making redundancies due to the impact of coronavirus, the weeks and months ahead could make for some very difficult conversations with staff.
These discussions are challenging, irrelevant of your role, so making sure you’re properly prepared is key. Preparation and practice will help you deliver the information you want to get across and ensure the person you’re talking to understands the detail accurately. Preparation and practice will mean you find the right words at the right moment and manage the conversation so that it goes as smoothly as possible.
Here are some top tips to help you manage a difficult conversation with an employee.

Plan your conversation

Take some time to plan the structure of your conversation. Think about how you would like to be treated in this type of situation. However, don’t be tempted to make a process less formal than it should be; be concise, stick to the facts and provide, clarity, empathy and understanding about the situation.

Think about the timing

Are you the type of person who feels more comfortable having a difficult conversation with an employee at the end of the working day, when the job has been done? Or would you rather have the meeting at the start of the day and get it off your mind if waiting would just make you increasingly anxious? Consider when you’ll feel most comfortable and schedule the conversation then.

Prepare a script

Preparing a script for a difficult conversation is a very useful exercise. Having a list of points you need to cover will help guide the conversation and provide structure if things go a little off track. Make sure you include information about the business rationale for any proposed changes so you cover this fully with the employee.

Plan the environment

In the current circumstances and with social distancing in mind, locations for your meeting may be limited. If you plan to hold your difficult conversation remotely, make sure you keep timings and privacy in mind.  If you plan to hold the meeting in a work environment, ensure you have booked a private room or location that meets the necessary guidelines.

Know the rules

Make sure you and the appropriate manager know the rules before starting the meeting. Never make any assumptions and double check everything; there have been lots of policy and procedure changes during the coronavirus pandemic, so if you’re unsure, it’s advisable to consult an employment law specialist for guidance ahead of the meeting.

Communicate with empathy

Getting your communication style right when having a difficult conversation around changes to employment or redundancy can be tough. You will need to demonstrate empathy and balance strong communication skills and clear messages with a caring approach while delivering the correct legal information. It’s easy to give mixed messages when you are feeling under pressure, so be careful you don’t give false hope or misleading messages. Stick to the facts and show compassion but avoid showing any personal opinion.
Again, an employment law specialist can provide guidance on how to structure your communication properly.

Prepare for different reactions

While showing empathy can set the whole tone of a difficult conversation or meeting, remember not to underestimate the impact of your actions on your employee at what is a sensitive time.  Employees will react differently, so be prepared but always ensure you deliver all the information you need to. Stay calm and keep your composure and don’t get drawn into an argument or start debating the decision. If you feel uncomfortable or in danger, stop the meeting and leave the room.

Keep a record

Keeping an accurate record of the meeting can be difficult if you are leading the conversation, so consider whether you need a notetaker.  An accurate record of the discussion can be hugely beneficial if any disputes arise following the meeting.
In the coming months, many managers and owners of small and medium sized businesses will face difficult conversations with their employees. Remember not to neglect yourself in what is a particularly challenging time. Howarths can support you with employment law advice and on-site support with difficult conversations and redundancies. Get in touch to find out how we can help.

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