At some point or other, most people will need to have a difficult conversation with an employee or colleague.

As recruiters, we’re well versed in having tricky conversations. Looking for a new job can be a stressful time for people and the process doesn’t always run smoothly.

Whether it’s delivering negative feedback or raising an issue with a colleague, here are the four golden rules to stick to when having a sensitive or difficult discussion with someone at work.

1. Be honest and clear about the issue

This point is incredibly important, especially when giving feedback. Sugar coating it often doesn’t help and the best thing you can do for someone is openly tell them what the issue is so that they can focus on improvement.

Naturally, people want to avoid confrontation so often shy away from giving people tough love. It’s certainly not our favourite part of the job, but getting to the point will help you reach the best outcome for everyone.

2. Be confident, but compassionate

No matter what the discussion is about, a degree of compassion is always needed. It’s important to acknowledge the other person’s perspective, listen to them, and sympathize with them when appropriate. However, stay confident and focused on the original purpose of the discussion.

3. Define a clear desired outcome from the conversation

Communicating your desired outcome of the conversation will steer things in the right direction and help the other person understand how to rectify or resolve the issue.

Make sure any feedback is constructive and prepare some advice or alternatives ahead of the meeting.

Then you can both begin to focus on making positive changes.

4. Give people space and time to reflect

After you’ve had the conversation, give your colleague some space for a day, especially if you need to discuss the issue again. Having difficult conversations can stir up emotions, and people may need some time to process the discussion so they can see things more objectively.

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