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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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In a Nutshell: Four considerations when holding a tricky conversation


As an HR pro, being able to talk about sensitive and emotive issues is an important part of the job, but it’s also one of the toughest.

If handled badly, such conversations, ranging from performance and conduct to personal matters, can damage team dynamics, lower morale and have a negative impact on attendance and performance levels.
But according to a survey by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, 63% of staff and managers believe that their organisation is not prepared to have challenging conversations – even though a failure to do so tends to prolong or intensify the problem rather than restrict or resolve it.
As a result, the conciliation service Acas has come up with four key ways to help you have one of those tricky chats with both sensitivity and empathy:
1. Set the right tone
  • Explain the purpose of the meeting
  • Adopt a calm and professional manner
  • Reassure the employee about their right to confidentiality
  • Focus on the issue not the person.
2. State the issue and give evidence
  • Tell the staff member about the problem and give examples
  • Explain how the issue is affecting the individual and the team
  • Consider whether the situation is a new one or whether you have spoken about it before as surprises are generally harder for people to handle.
3. Ask for an explanation
  • Listen to what the employee is saying and try to recognise any underlying causes of unhappiness or stress
  • Keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions
  • Introduce your questions and explore the issue together
  • Avoid emotive language or getting diverted from the issue.
4. Agree a way forward
  • Ask the worker for proposals to resolve the problem
  • Discuss the options
  • Make a decision – and remember, you are in charge
  • Arrange a follow-up meeting, if necessary
  • Monitor and provide feedback on progress and give support where required
  • Document any agreement and give a copy to the employee.
Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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