How to have a conversation you dread
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Tips for Difficult Conversations

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I have a new employee who wears very strong perfume, and it’s bothering people around her. What’s the best way to approach her?

 A: Some conversations are hard to have, but unfortunately they’re part of the job of a manager. This is a classic difficult conversation, and I applaud you for even considering approaching her.

Many managers duck these kinds of issues and send the culprit off to a counseling session with HR, but this is a situation best handled by you as the person’s immediate supervisor. The reason: You need to nurture a positive relationship with her, and if you handle this with tact and diplomacy, you will likely build a stronger bond.

Difficult conversations need to be approached with caution and even scripted. It helps to plan out what you’re going to say so that you stick to the point.

It goes without saying that you need to have a private conversation that won’t be interrupted. My best advice would be to make it spontaneous. Don’t send her an email to set up a meeting later in the week—she will be nervous all week and the situation will become more significant than it is.

Tomorrow morning, stop by her work area and ask her to come with you back to your office for a quick conversation. Close your door and be up front about the issue. Let her know that you would appreciate it if she would use a lighter scent or less of the scent because others in the office have told you it bothers them.

She will most likely be embarrassed but will agree to tone it down. Let her know that you appreciate her cooperation. Tell her that you’ll be following up and if there isn’t improvement, further action may be required. (For example, your organization may institute a “no fragrance” policy.)

Difficult conversations with employees need to be approached with caution and even scripted. It helps to plan out what you’re going to say so that you stick to the point. Hone your listening skills so that you give the employee a chance to express his or her side of the issue.

Managing people isn’t easy. Managers have to deal with all kinds of personalities and all kinds of issues, including some that are uncomfortable. Take some time to plan your conversation and quickly deal with the issue. Good luck!

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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