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Apply Critical Conversation Skills When an Issue Is Raised

What an employee has a concern, it’s time to sharpen your critical conversation skills. Many issues can be potentially resolved with a critical conversation. Critical conversations teach you that as you are digging into what is really happening, the best thing to do is to listen before you act.

Make sure you focus on finding out all the facts and maintaining a positive environment. Ask what happened, take notes, and then agree on what should happen next.

Here’s an example of how to follow the critical conversation steps when an issue is raised. Suppose Sally comes into the office obviously distraught. She tells you that Frank, her co-worker, just commented on how cute she looks and makes inappropriate comments about other women in the workplace. As the receiver of this information, you should follow many of the main critical conversation elements of a staff dispute:

  • Examine and acknowledge the other person’s feelings: Because these types of conversations usually aren’t planned, take a minute to let the other party know that you’re here to listen and to help resolve the issue. In this case, you may say, “Thanks, Sally, for coming to me. I want to help resolve this issue so we can all work together in a positive environment.”

  • Examine what happened: Ask what specifically happened and whether the other person feels comfortable telling you more specifics. Often these conversations are emotional, so try to stick to the facts, but be sure to acknowledge feelings along the way. In this case, ask, “Can you give me a few examples of what happened so I can best understand the issue?”

    Examining what’s happening can help you uncover what the facts really are before you make a decision about what to do next.

    Try to avoid leading questions that sound like you’re putting the spotlight on a person in an investigation room.

    For example, don’t ask, “Since you didn’t try to ask Mike to stop making comments, was there anything else you couldn’t do?” A better option for uncovering the facts would be, “Did you think about talking to Mike about how his behavior made you feel?” Asking leading questions could lead to defensiveness and add to an already emotional situation.

  • Examine and acknowledge feelings and perspectives (once again): Let the other person know she did the right thing by coming to you even if it may have been tough. This acknowledgment keeps the communication channel open for any future discussions. “I can understand why you would be upset, and I appreciate your courage to come to me.”

  • Decide what to do next: If you recognize you’re dealing with a potential legal workplace complaint or an ethical concern, bring in your human resources or employee relations resource to help with the process quickly. Balance this action with an agreement to do so, and with what you or the initiator of the conversation may or may not do in the interim.

    You may say, “This does sound like something we should involve HR in. Would you be comfortable talking with them, or would you like me to talk to them first?” Also ask the other party to do two things between now and the next step: first, maintain confidentiality, and second, to come to you if the situation gets worse.

  • Gain commitment and get moving: Now you do what you agreed to do and then work with the parties involved to solve the problem.

  • Evaluate the discussion: Once the issue is resolved, or in some cases passed on to the legal or HR department, follow up with the individual that voiced the complaint. You may say something along these lines: “Thanks for voicing your concern. Is there anything I could have done differently to help rectify the situation? I want to make sure you feel I have done my job well.”

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