Whether it’s announcing the elimination of a position or raising the inappropriate behaviour of an employee, HR professionals have to be tactful to effectively manage conversations that can sometimes be rather delicate. What attitudes and strategies do they need to adopt?
Open the conversation calmly
A consultant for a firm that specializes in human resources training, Relais Expert Conseil, Nicole L’Écuyer-Demers recommends firstly not to be overcome by panic when you are given the heavy task of announcing bad news. “The stress felt before a difficult conversation is normal and even useful,” she says. “It’s a bit like an artist’s jitters before entering the stage. So you need to be confident in your plan, and be convinced that if it is accepted by the employee, the problem will then be resolved.” She particularly recommends the direct involvement of the person concerned in the plan for resolving the problem.
Keeping calm during a delicate conversation also ensures that the person you are speaking with will be more receptive. “Listening will not be possible if there is anger. Remember that anyone who is asked to change goes through an essentially emotional process, because there is uncertainty, fear and sometimes a sense of loss.”
Prepare by anticipating different scenarios
The expert also lists a few essential preparation steps that will allow HR professionals to approach an uncomfortable conversation more serenely. After obtaining the facts and validating them objectively, the HR professional must favour an approach based on openness, consistency and flexibility. “You can plan all the stages of a difficult conversation first, by anticipating the best and worst scenarios, and by practising with a trusted person,” explains the consultant. The time taken to resolve a delicate situation is also an important factor to take into account. “Taking action quickly helps maintain confidentiality. It may be disastrous for effective handling of a file if information gets out due to disorder or in the form of rumours,” concludes Nicole L’Écuyer-Demers.