Article: HR tips - Staffing and awkward conversations

Article by Barb Gormley, Toronto Star
Printed with permission © Copyright (c) Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

Janis Boltman has always thrived on the challenges of managing large fitness centres – supervising a team of employees, mentoring co-op students, balancing budgets and keeping pace with industry trends.

But nothing in her education prepared the Mississauga, Ontario, fitness consultant for the difficult conversations that have been a constant in her 30-year career.

She recalls speaking with one shapely young woman whose plunging neckline revealed way too much as she jumped and leaped in a co-ed fitness class. She’s had to approach more than one exerciser with killer body odour.

And then there was the member who blew his nose in the showers post-workout, and left the residue for others to discover.

According to communications expert Brady Wilson – owner of Juice Inc., a Guelph, Ontario, company that helps organizations have engaging conversations – inappropriate work attire, body odour and poor etiquette are classic hot buttons for workplace conflict.

But today – thanks to company restructurings, shrinking budgets, virtual work teams, and a mix of employee cultures – clashes are more common and more complex than ever, he says.

Whether dealing with a simple plunging neckline or a seriously toxic employee, use these tips from Wilson to ease the way through your next tough conversation.

Don’t wait too long

Get to it as soon as possible. If you procrastinate, the person may not even remember the incident. But don’t rush; give yourself time to determine your approach and go about it in an intelligent way.

Keep it private

Don’t vent about the person and his actions. Telling others is disrespectful to everyone involved.

Give a heads up

Set up a meeting. Give enough information so the employee doesn’t arrive expecting a wonderful conversation, but don’t go so far into things that you destroy her entire day. Try saying something like, “I need to see you in my office at 3:00. We need to talk about how we dress in the company. It’s more of a 4 than a 9.5, but it’s important. Can you work it into your schedule?”

Make observations

Don’t evaluate, interpret or make assumptions about the person’s behaviour. Instead of telling a perennially late employee that he is disrespectful of people’s time, state your observations. You could say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been late for meetings three times in the last month. As a result the meetings didn’t start on time, and we weren’t as productive as we could have been.”

Make it two-way

Avoid the “monologue and missile” approach. Instead, engage the person as a partner in the talk. Start sentences with “I” versus “you” since “you” can trigger defensive behaviour. Ask “pull” questions (that draw out information) like, “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Find a coach

Rehearse your approach, the same way a professional musician or athlete would prepare for a concert or game. Then run it by a trusted colleague or mentor. Don’t even consider winging the conversation, hoping that the right words will come to you in the moment – they won’t.

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