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Helpful Tips For Having Difficult Employee Conversations


Each time I take on a new role managing staff, I seem to have an issue with one employee that is very sensitive.  I’ve had to deal with hygiene issues, someone who wore too much perfume, and even someone who wore an unsightly sweater every single day.  How best do I deal with these issues and talk with employees about these sensitive topics that are impacting others?


Difficult employee conversations come up in every job where you manage employees.  It could be about hygiene, clothing, or even annoying habits.  Arming yourself with tact and remaining respectful during the conversation will be your best approach in any issue.  Some suggestions on having the conversation include:

  1. Make sure they know it is not a disciplinary meeting but rather a coaching conversation.
  2. Meet with employee in a private location without interruptions where you can explain the problem and how it affects the workplace.
  3. Allow the employee to lead the conversation – an apology, not aware of the situation, or maybe even a personal discussion as to why the person is having the issue.
  4. Be open to the possibility that the employee may have a disability or religious or cultural factors that are impacting the situation at hand (hygiene, for example).
  5. If they aren’t talking, try to find the root of the issue, gently guide them and allow them plenty of time to open up.
  6. Holding the meeting at the end of the day may be best as it will allow the employee to leave immediately afterwards.
  7. Be compassionate and focus on the company’s future expectations.

A Business Journals article notes: “From coworkers who aren’t getting along to dress code violations to performance problems, you will inevitably be confronted with challenging employee relations issues.  As a business leader, you need to be able to address these employee relations issues directly with respect and compassion, rather than ignoring the issue or avoiding direct confrontation.”  If you are faced with having difficult employee conversations the keys are to be sensitive, handle the situation with a calm demeanor, and in a professional manner–if you do the results are usually positive and change occurs.  Remember…the first step is opening up the lines of communication and listening.


Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to say and you just “say it”. However hearing and listening are two different functions. HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! strategic HR inc. has years of experience preparing communications for a variety of audiences and topics. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.