How to Have Critical Conversations with Employees

Last update on Jun, 02, 2021

We are 100 days into 2021 and have experienced Capitol riots, shootings, and the trial against the police officer in the death of George Floyd.  You may be wondering how to breach critical, yet sometimes uncomfortable, topics with your employees – such as the civil unrest happening in our communities.

As a business leader, you cannot stay silent for fear of saying the wrong thing or pretend these incidents aren’t occurring. Your employees are thinking about what’s going on and are wondering why you aren’t acknowledging it.

How to have tough conversations with employees

Rather than avoiding the topic, there are healthy and productive ways to communicate with staff that may ease some of the discomfort they may be feeling. We lay these approaches out for you below.

Educate yourself

We can all benefit from learning at this time, and before you have a conversation with your employees, educate yourself on the issues at hand so you can speak from a place of full understanding. Show you are willing to take action, learn how to be a better ally, support causes, and do the work necessary to make an impact.

Have empathy

When traumatic events occur, people are left feeling shocked, angry, sad – the emotions can run the gamut. Validate how your employees are feeling and rather than just talking at everyone, ask questions to spark conversation. You may find certain members of your staff open up, while others keep to themselves. There is no “right” way to feel, so however employees respond is OK, as long as it is respectful.  

Have a stance and make it clear

Just as staying silent about current events is no longer optional, neither is not taking a stance. Be explicit on where you stand, be vulnerable, and know that your statement won’t be perfect. Discuss the changes and initiatives you are implementing in your workplace, including what behavior and language will and will not be tolerated. Open it up to suggestions from employees and find ways to get the whole team involved, whether it’s a day off to volunteer or making a donation as a company to a local organization.

Provide resources

Don’t just have “the talk” and leave it at that; offer additional resources for employees who have questions or concerns, feel anxious or stressed about what is going on, and want to get involved. There are thousands of articles, podcasts, documentaries, and other materials that offer information to support your team. You should also share local counseling and support groups to promote staff’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as opportunities to support marginalized individuals and communities both in your area and across the country. 

Leave it open-ended

Beyond providing resources, open the end of your discussion for feedback and questions. Communicate that you are available for support – and follow through! Acknowledge that not everyone is ready or willing to discuss the topic at hand, but that the conversation doesn’t need to stop here. Unfortunately, the problems in our society won’t be going away anytime soon, so an open dialogue must continue.

Avoiding important subjects can lead to frustrated and unhappy employees. Be open, honest, and genuine and take the necessary steps outlined above to move forward and make positive change as a team.

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