Difficult HR meetings are a part of doing business. Nobody necessarily looks forward to them, but many times they are inevitable.

These difficult conversations with employees could be due to misconduct, termination, employee disputes, addressing an underperforming employee or general office complaints about an employee. No matter the cause of these difficult HR conversations, there are specific ways they should be handled to ensure they go as smoothly as possible.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at exactly how to handle difficult HR meetings with your employees. It won’t always be easy, but it must be done.

1. Set Your Agenda

Before the meeting starts, make sure to go into it with a solid plan. Difficult HR conversations typically begin going bad because the people leading the conversation go into them trying to handle things off the cuff.

This is a big mistake.

Set a very specific agenda that addresses concerns and resolutions in a detailed, thought-out way.

For example, if there is an underperforming employee that needs to be addressed, prepare for them to defend themselves on their performance. Have specific examples in your agenda that you can point to that show why this meeting is valid. It’s fine to allow themselves to state their case. But point to the facts that dispute their claims.

Then, have a specific action plan of the steps the employee needs to take in the next 90 days to avoid further discipline. Having a solid agenda will ensure that the employee leaves the meeting knowing exactly what they need to do moving forward.

2. Prepare for the Conversation

Before the meeting begins, think of the many ways your employee may try to dispute the claims that will be presented to them. If they are being accused of misconduct, it’s very likely that they will immediately attempt to defend themselves.

Nobody likes getting caught red-handed, let alone be called into the HR Department for discipline.

Prepare yourself for the many denials the employee might present you, and be prepared to refute them with the facts you have collected. If they aren’t facing immediate termination for the misconduct claim, let them know that up front. They’ll be more likely to open up to you about what happened and why.

This will help resolve the situation more smoothly.

3. Always Document the Meeting

Difficult conversations with employees should always be thoroughly documented. This is for the company’s protection as well as the employees.

Bring in your HR Assistant during the conversation with the HR Manager and other heads of relevant departments involved. Have your HR Assistant keep detailed notes about what happens during the meeting. Also, record the meeting whenever possible, either via video or audio. This way, no words can be twisted or disputed at a later date.

This is especially important during an employee termination conversation. It could help avoid a lawsuit from a disgruntled employee down the road.

difficult hr meeting

4. Set the Tone During the Meeting

Some employees have much stronger personalities than others. An employee with a strong personality may try to take control of the meeting by setting the tone of it for themselves.

Be firm from your very first words you say that the tone of the meeting will be set from your side of the table. During cases of employee disputes, pay close attention to this point.

When there are disputes between two or more employees, a difficult HR meeting can quickly turn into an all-out war pitting one side against the other. This cannot be tolerated.

Of course, you’ll allow each party to state their case. But let them know that you will not tolerate personal attacks or finger-pointing. You are only looking for substantiated facts.

5. Keep Everyone’s Emotions in Check

There’s a strong probability in difficult HR meetings that negative emotions are going to rear their ugly heads. Properly dealing with this is part of succeeding as an HR professional.

As you well know, cooler heads will always prevail. Therefore, you want to make sure that your emotions don’t get in the way of fair and proper judgment.

Second, if an employee’s emotions start to spiral a bit, use comforting words to let them know that everything is going to work out. That you’re just doing your job to get to the bottom of what caused the problem that landed them in a conversation with the HR manager.

Even if the meeting is for termination, do you best to assure the employee that they were highly valued and that they will succeed moving forward. Always stay as positive as possible, regardless of their emotional state.

6. Resolve the Issue

Never end a difficult HR meeting without a clear resolution put into place. If an employee is called into HR for a reprimand, then leaves the office unsure of what the resolution was, there will be more problems moving forward.

Give your employees written, step-by-step ways to resolve problems so they know exactly what to do when the meeting is over.

Succeeding During Difficult HR Meetings

Difficult meetings are one of the hardest parts of working in the HR field. But when they’re handled the right way you can rest assured that you’ve done the job to the best of your ability.

Follow these six steps and you’ll be well on your way.

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