Having difficult conversations with your employees comes with the employer territory, but often employers dread having this kind of interaction, opting to send emails rather than having a face-to-face meeting. Sometimes this can feel impersonal and counterintuitive, which may lead to a more difficult conversation down the line.

However, learning the right skills on how to tackle difficult issues can help to increase your confidence and encourage you to manage the problem head-on, so that both parties are mutually happy with the final resolution.

Simplify ER regularly advises our clients on potential problematic employee discussions, so here are our three top tips on how to approach and manage difficult conversations with your employees.

1. Be prepared for the conversation

Prepare your notes on what you want to say and do your homework first before you call a meeting. Being prepared will enable you to be more confident in how to tackle the difficult conversation.

Think about what you want the outcome of the conversation to be; for example, if an employee has recorded a lot of absences, how can they improve on their record? Or if you need to discuss their overall performance, how can they improve so that next time they can be on track for a potential promotion? Using open questions like, “How do you think…?”, “Tell me about…,” or “What do you think…?” will encourage a better relationship with your employee and it opens up a two-way conversation that will help you both explore a way forward together.

Gather all the relevant evidence that you need to back up your reason for the conversation and practice what you’re going to say beforehand – it may sound silly, but practising in front of a mirror helps you to be more confident in your approach to the difficult situation. 

2. Don’t put off the conversation

You may be tempted to send an email, phone the employee, or put off the conversation altogether because you don’t want to be in a position to have a negative face-to-face conversation with your employee. However scary and intimidating it may feel to you, putting the conversation off may cause a more difficult issue for you at a later date.

For example, if your employee is coming to work late every day, but they work well within their role, not saying anything might give them the idea that it is ok for them to come to work late and so this then becomes the norm. If you then address the situation at a much later date, your employee may have grounds to get upset because they have been led to a false sense of security.

All of a sudden this small issue then becomes a large one. Also, other employees may lose respect for you if it can be seen that you are giving them leeway to come in late or provide sub-par work. It is better to nip the situation in the bud and set the ground rules early. This way, if the employee does not follow the suggestions in your conversation, then you have grounds to enact the disciplinary procedure against them.  

3. Make sure the setting is right – and private

If you are planning a difficult conversation with your employee, then make sure it is in private and that you have the meeting in a place that is comfortable for your employee. It may be a nice touch to ensure that there are beverages ready to hand – and if you want to go all out, offer some food too. Embellishments may help the employee to feel more at ease and provide a more productive meeting. 


How to deal effectively with constructive feedback on an employee’s performance

It is vital to keep your employees happy and motivated at work, but if one employee’s performance falls under par, you may need to provide constructive feedback, to encourage improvement in their role.

The first port of call is to set up a one-to-one meeting and convey the seriousness of the conversation without overwhelming the employee nor sugar-coating the issue. So, there needs to be a balance of seriousness and informality, so that the employee is relaxed in the meeting, but understands the impact of the conversation on their role in the future. Some other tips you can implement in your meeting are:

  • Be clear about the issues and explain what the employee should do differently next time.
  • Try not to get too emotional, i.e. show disappointment in the employee, and remain calm and professional throughout the meeting, so you can get the message across clearly and succinctly.
  • Focus only on the matter that brought you to the conversation in the first place. This also helps the employee to feel they can speak openly about the matter.
  • Avoid generalisations and stick to the facts.
  • Adopt a constructive manner and ensure that the employee understands clearly that this meeting is to explore a way forward, which both of you can work on together.
  • Ensure that your body language is neutral, with no crossing of arms, and your tone of voice is calm and not loud.

What should you do if an employee reacts badly to a difficult conversation/meeting?

There is a good chance that the employee may not react as well as you initially thought, generally because the nature of the conversation is brought about after a difficult situation has occurred.

Whether this is performance feedback, an unexplained absence record, or the employee has not been chosen for a promotion, it is important to stay calm at all times, but allow the employee to vent the anger or frustration they have, so they feel like they are being listened to.

If this relates to performance, explore with the employee why they think a meeting has been called. Show results of or errors in their work if there has been any, all the while, remaining positive about the outcome.

If the conversation relates to the employee not getting a promotion, ask the employee why they think this has happened and agree on a plan of action together about what the employee should improve on, along with a development plan and how you and the company will help the employee going forward.

If you are faced with a difficult conversation ahead with your employee, then it is important to obtain good legal advice before you have your meeting. Call Simplify ER now on 020 3011 0448 or email us at info@simplifyer.co.uk so we can discuss your next steps together.

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