Six Tips to Handle Difficult Discussions with Employees

by | Published on Dec 3, 2019 | Interview Transcription

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Tough conversations between a manager and an employee are a common occurrence in the workplace. Managers need to be prepared to have difficult discussions with employees on performance, discipline or personal issues. They also need to know which verbal conversations are critical to document. For example, all counseling sessions and verbal warnings given to an employee should always be documented to rebut claims of unfair, discriminatory and retaliatory practices. According to J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., both employees and employers can legally make audio recordings, though with varying degrees of consent required depending on state law. Personnel interviews, reviews, and hearings accurately can be documented accurately with the help of an audio transcription company. This will demonstrate that the company takes personnel issues seriously and is determined to set things right.

Tips to Handle Difficult Discussions with Employees

It’s important to have open discussions about performance, discipline or personal issues. Avoiding or delaying difficult or uncomfortable conversations can lower morale, create a toxic work environment, and affect the growth of the business. Forbes reported on a study which found that employees spend an average 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, which accounts for about $359 billion in workforce costs. However, studies have also found that many managers struggle to handle tough conversations with employees. Here are six tips to help managers succeed with these difficult discussions:

  • Be prepared with the facts: Plan the conversation – this will help things go smoothly. If the issue is performance-related, provide examples of when the employee did not meet goals. Be specific and have factual data ready for reference. Start the conversation by focusing on their strengths, but concisely convey that expectations were not met. Stick to the facts and clearly state what corrective action needs to be taken and why. If it’s a termination, conduct the meeting in private, but have a witness to the conversations and process. Keep the session short and provide a copy of the code of conduct that was breached. Adhere to all the laws governing the termination process. Make sure that everything discussed, including actions that have been set or taken, is documented.
  • Be empathetic: Be prepared to listen to the employee’s point of view and establish trust. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what’s driving them to behave or speak this way. Be objective and allow them to ask questions. Give them time to process their emotions and help them understand why they are facing criticism. It’s important that they understand that you are having this conversation to improve their situation. Offer suggestions to help them succeed.
  • Control your emotions, be polite: Regardless of how frustrating the discussion becomes, stay cool. Be polite, control your emotions, and stick to the purpose of the conversation and the changes needed to move forward. If both parties have a problem controlling their emotions, it’s best to reschedule the meeting.
  • Guarantee confidentiality: If the employee is struggling with personal issues at work, they would want to be reassured of confidentiality. While this would depend on what the issues they disclose, inform them about the policies and the measures that need to be taken. It’s important to protect employees’ confidentiality, while providing the required assistance.
  • Ask the employee for solutions: Collaborate instead of confronting, says business advisor Steven Maranville, Maranville Enterprises ( He recommends asking the employee to identify the problems and produce the solutions rather than telling them about the problems and solutions. The range of the discussion and actions should be narrowed down to the real issues at hand.
  • Close on a positive note: Even if the interaction may have been difficult, try to end things in a positive way. This can be done by giving positive statements of the actions that need to be taken and the potential benefits of these measures.

It’s important to choose the right time and place to have these conversations. While a meeting room would be the right place for disciplinary meetings, informal discussions can be held in a casual setting like a café. Choose an environment that sets the tone for the discussion. If formal employee discussions are being recorded, it is good practice to inform all attendees about this. An experienced digital transcription company can provide transcripts of performance reviews and disciplinary or grievance interviews. Outsourcing the task to an expert will ensure high quality verbatim transcripts.

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