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The Great Resignation: Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations

Shelli Baltman
In Part 3 of our blog series on the Great Resignation Energy for Growth Co-founder Shelli Baltman shares her experience-based approach on how to be kind and caring when tough topics are raised at work, so we can each show up as the thoughtful human leaders we all strive to be.

Handling tough conversations with our people is a key connection point that builds our team’s energy and give us, as leaders, an opportunity to create an authentic connection. The problem, and therein the opportunity, is that many of us manage it badly because we’ve not practiced in advance how to remain present when an employee discloses something personal or challenging.

Here are 4 steps you as a leader can follow to manage the next difficult conversation you have in the workplace more effectively:

1. Ask for more information and thank them for sharing

Ask them to tell you more – this helps them to know that you’re open to the conversation and interested in their experience. Also, if you’re having an emotional reaction, this will give you some time to calm down and really be in the moment for them.

Thank them for sharing – the objective here is to normalize the conversation and acknowledge that it takes bravery to share issues and challenges in a work environment. Don’t make it a big deal, but acknowledge the effort it took for them to tell you.

Listen actively – ask a few questions (not too many) and show them that you’re on their side and have empathy by listening actively. Be in the moment. an employee has made the decision to leave – however sad or painful it may be, it’s time to wish them well on the next phase of their journey. Make your best effort to shield them from the temporary upheaval that may result from their departure – and really strive to bring positive energy to your last workplace interactions with them.  Letting them know how much they will be missed, asking them questions about their new role, and helping to make their offboarding process as smooth as possible will go a long way.

2. Label how they’re feeling and show them you’ve been listening

Label their emotion – use the language ‘It seems like…’ or ‘It sounds like…’ and then try to reflect back to them what you heard them say. If you’ve labelled it correctly, it will show them that you’re listening, and if you’ve not got it quite right, they’ll correct you and get further into their challenge. Either way, it will help them feel like you’re listening.

Support without overpromising – it can be tempting to tell them that you’ll do ‘whatever it takes’ to support them, but you might not be able to give them everything that they believe that they need. Tread carefully. Let them know that they’re a valuable member of the team and that, ‘We’ll figure this out together.’ You’re communicating that this is a shared responsibility, and you’re willing to be their partner in the journey.

Don’t make it about you – don’t assume that you know what they’re going through. Every experience is different, so you can’t assume that you know what they’re going through or promise that it’s all going to be okay.

3. Refer them to professionals and resources your organization offers

Refer them to the right resources – as their manager/leader, you’re not trained to be their therapist or doctor. Ideally, you’d like to help them find professional, supportive resources that can really make a difference. Remind them about your EAP, counselling resources and your HR team who might be trained to more actively support them through their journey.

4. Stay in touch and be sure to follow up

Maintain confidentiality – reassure them that you will maintain confidentiality, but that you may need to speak with HR. If they’re uncomfortable with that, perhaps you can start by speaking to HR about the situation anonymously, but be prepared to explain why you may need to share the situation. This includes ensuring that they will get the legal protection and any accommodations that they’re entitled to.

Look for changes in behaviour – keep an eye out for them appearing restless, avoiding social activities, keeping their camera off in meetings, being consistently late or having difficulty meeting deadlines. Noticing behaviour changes might be a cue that things are getting worse. If you do notice these changes, think about approaching them, mentioning what you’re noticing and asking about how they’re doing.

Schedule times to check in – whether these are formal or informal meetings, make sure you’re scheduling in regular social interactions where you can give them a chance to talk and let you know how they’re doing. Employees with a workplace ‘buddy’ are 7x more likely to be engaged and productive at work, so think about how you might be able to become a confidant or to connect them with someone who can be.

What has been your approach to having difficult conversations in the workplace? Which of these 4 steps resonated most with you? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts. We’d love to continue this conversation! See you in Part 4.



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