Phrases to avoid during difficult conversations with employees

By: Judy Kneiszel

Publication: Employee Relations Management Today

Date Posted: 11/18/2021

Tip:phrases to avoid in employee conversations

When having a difficult conversation with an employee, whether addressing a complaint about a lack of personal hygiene or discussing a job performance issue, there are some phrases it’s best to avoid including:

Don’t say “It’s not personal.”
While it may not be personal to you, it is likely personal to them.

Don’t start a statement with words like “obviously” or “clearly.”
The need for the conversation indicates whatever you’re going to say is not obvious or clear to the employee and saying so is insulting.

Avoid statements of absolute certainty.
Statements that start with “You always…” or “You never…” are rarely true, even when addressing the most serious charges.

Don’t use phrases that personally insult someone.
Telling someone they are “unprofessional,” “unethical,” or even “wrong,” will likely cause them to be defensive. Instead of attacking their character, address the specific behavior, which may be unprofessional, unethical, or wrong.

Don’t use should statements.
People may feel judged by “should” statements. Instead of saying, “you should do ….,” try saying “You might consider...,” “One possibility is...,” or “Maybe you could try...?” instead.

About the author
Judy Kneiszel - Human Resources Editor

Judy is an Associate Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and she specializes in issues such as recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, employee communication and discipline, managing problems, team building, inclusion, employee retention, and labor relations

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