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Staffing agencies are motivated to provide clients with the best advice around not just recruiting but also retaining top talent.

Difficult conversations with employees will arise, and a big component of engagement and retention can lie in how those conversations are handled.

In this edition of nSider Elisa Burgos-Ojeda, Learning and Development Manager at nTech Workforce, shares insight on how to handle difficult conversations with employees and how they can contribute to the growth of an employee.


How Do You Prepare For Difficult Conversations With Employees? 

According to one study, less than 20% of employees leave reviews feeling inspired and motivated, and yet disengaged and disinterested employees cost US companies up to $7.8 trillion per year. Having difficult conversations with employees doesn’t have to be hard.

“The first thing to think about is being clear about what the issues are that you want to discuss,” says Burgos-Ojeda. This means having the information at hand to discuss performance issues or behaviors directly.

Burgos-Ojeda also adds that employers should direct some questions inward to ask of themselves, “How have I provided support? Have I provided guidance? What kind of instruction did I provide? Does the employee have everything that they need to be successful?”

Once the self-check is complete, Burgos-Ojeda recommends starting with simple questions, “then structuring it so that it’s not about the person, it is really about the actual performance issue.” She also adds that “No event is ever an isolated event. Everything is interconnected. So a manager should consider if they are being clear on all of the interconnected pieces that led to this particular outcome.”


How Can Managers Utilize Active Listening During These Conversations?

Active listening is the process by which one attentively listens to the speaker to understand what they are saying and then reflects on what they have heard. Active listening can be especially helpful when there are employee communication challenges or for conflict resolution in the workplace.

This can be helpful in cases where “depending on the level of trust and communication that has been established, the person may not feel comfortable expressing themselves clearly and directly, and it might be a process of listening, and then paraphrasing back what they said to make sure you’ve understood it” says Burgos-Ojeda, adding, “once you confirm what exactly the roadblock is from this person’s perspective, you can try to help find solutions that will work for them.”


How Do You Navigate Emotions and Focus On the Problem at Hand?

Managers can be extremely effective communicators and negotiators, but at the same time, they will still have emotions and feelings of their own that might arise during difficult conversations with employees.

Burgos-Ojeda recommends “Making sure that space is created” and “acknowledging that emotions are happening.” This might involve taking a moment to get some water or have a breather before coming back to resume the conversation.


What Are the Best Strategies to Problem-Solve Together? 

Communication issues are a big cause of conflict in the workplace, and nobody is going to understand the unique circumstances better than the employee. This is why it is so important to go directly to the source. 

Burgos-Ojeda recommends “having the individual reach a solution that you feel is likely to succeed and then having an open channel of conversations,” where you might circle back to find out, “How is it working out? Did it work? What worked and what didn’t work?” This is because, says Burgos-Ojeda, “the ultimate goal is for the person to be equipped to be able to solve their problems. If they require their manager to solve the problem, it’s just going to slow down the entire process.”


What Do You Do After the Conversation Is Over?

The goal of any manager is to facilitate a space that is open for employees to bring any issues forward and then have a sounding board or the necessary feedback to feel empowered to solve future issues independently.

For Burgos-Ojeda, having pre-set checkpoints that are structured but somewhat flexible can create an ongoing open space for employee conversations to be “seamlessly built into pre-existing spaces that you have maintained for communication such as weekly one-on-one meetings. If there are no pre-existing spaces, then this is a great opportunity to create some.”

For more resources on employee management, stay tuned to our nSider blog. Reach out to nTech Workforce to find out how we can help solve your recruiting and retention challenges.