How to have difficult conversations in the workplace

As an employer you should aim to develop a culture where open and honest dialogue is encouraged. Employees may be reluctant to talk about their mental health, therefore you must consider why this may be from the employees point of view. Could it be they are frightened of losing their job, are fearful of being judged or appearing weak. Do they feel that it is safe to talk to you? It maybe that they have observed others within the organisation speak out and then they have been discriminated against.   It may be that they are right to be cautious. It is therefore important to reassure your employee that your talk together is confidential. Although in certain situations this may not be possible for safety reasons.

Firstly, it is essential you meet with them in a private setting, you could even meet outside in a café or somewhere the employee would feel more comfortable. If at any point the employee suggests that it is too difficult to talk right now, reassure them that your door is always open.

Here are some simple steps you can follow:

  • Firstly, get yourself ready to have the conversation. Are you in the right headspace, are you willing to genuinely listen? Can you give them as much time as they need?
  • Be prepared – remember you won’t have all the answers. Listening is one of the most important things that you can do. If someone is talking about personal struggles, this of course can be difficult and they may get emotional, embarrassed or upset.
  • Pick your moment – Is it a good time for them to chat? Make sure you allocate enough time – allow yourself at least an hour in your diary. Are you meeting in a place which is private and informal? If they can’t talk, ask when it would be a better time to come back.

Ok so now what do you do? Well it is time to start the conversation.

Ask – are you ok?

Be relaxed, ask open questions like ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘I’ve noticed you are not quite yourself lately, how are you?   It may be helpful to mention any specific things that have caught your attention that you are concerned about such as ‘I’ve notice you appear a little tired recently’, or ‘you seem less chatty that usual, are things okay?’.

It is important to listen without judgement and take what they are saying to you seriously. It is often difficult, but try not to interrupt or rush the conversation. Encourage them to explain anything that you don’t understand, reassuring them that you’re asking because you are concerned. If they need some time to think, try to sit patiently with the silence and if they get upset, or angry try to stay calm and don’t take it personally.

Encourage them to take some action. Ask them what would be a good first step to take? Or where you can go from here? Some good options might include talking to family, a friend, their doctor, a coach who specialises in MH or if your organisation has an Employee Assistance Provider this may also be a good option. This will be discussed in our final video tomorrow ‘how to support your employees’.

Finally, you must not forget to follow up a few days later to check in with them and see how they are doing. Ask if they have found a better way to manage the situation? If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them, it maybe they just needed someone to listen to them. You could ask them if it would be useful to look for some professional or other support? However, you need to be mindful that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional.

Try to remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge.

Stacy Thomson

Mental Health Coaching combats and helps to prevent work related stress and other mental health conditions.  For more information regarding my Coaching services; including mental health training please contact me at stacy@impactcoaching or via my website