Handling difficult grievance and disciplinary conversations

Difficult conversations are a fact of life in any workplace. They can involve delivering difficult feedback or discussing behavioural issues, so are often important to an organisation’s overall performance. As a result, managers have to accept responsibility and develop the skills necessary to deal with difficult workplace conversations.


Meetings regarding grievances and disciplinary cases are two of the more common difficult conversations managers may have to have with employees. The best way for managers to deal with these types of conversations is to plan, familiarise themselves with relevant policy and have confidence in their own skills.


Acknowledge problems

Some issues can be prevented before they get out of control and require further action. If you spot the warning signs of a conflict between employees or think that something might be wrong, a quiet word can diffuse a situation.


Managers should maintain regular contact with employees and their team. If a manager is seen as being approachable, then people are far more likely to come to them to discuss an issue when it arises.


Establish the facts

If a grievance or disciplinary case escalates to a formal stage, then managers will have to be control. They can do this by arming themselves with the facts. What aspect of the employee’s conduct has been unacceptable? Have they breached any particular policy?


For example, if attendance is the issue, there should be an accurate record of the employee’s timekeeping. If they’ve already been spoken to about it through regular feedback, then they have already been given the chance to improve and disciplinary action shouldn’t come as a surprise.


Follow your policies and procedures

Your organisation’s policies and procedures on discipline and grievances should outline the action you need to take. For example, if your business has a trigger point for sickness absence levels, then you need to know what it is and act accordingly.


The policy will outline the process you need to follow and inform the appropriate action or outcome, such as setting new targets and improvements to be reviewed within a realistic timescale.


Soft skills

Many of the skills needed when dealing with people are referred to as ‘soft’ skills, especially when it comes to discussing potentially sensitive subjects. Active listening and questioning techniques can be practiced and developed through roleplaying and planning.


Different questioning techniques will need to be used throughout the conversation, such as open questions to encourage discussion, probing questions to find out the appropriate information and closed questions to check facts.


Active listening shows that you believe the employee has something worthwhile to say, and strengthens your working relationship with them. It involves non-verbal cues such as body language, as well as the tone of voice you use.


Stay in control

As the manager, it’s up to you and not the employee as to how the meeting progresses. It’s human nature to want to liked, and sometimes you may have a friendly relationship with the employee. However, it’s vital to remember to focus on the evidence at hand and remain professional.


If an employee becomes emotional or angry it’s important for you to remain calm, remember the structure of the meeting, and use the appropriate soft skills to agree a way forward.


Deminos can help

At Deminos, we can give advice on how to handle a difficult grievance or disciplinary conversation. We’ll work with you to gather appropriate evidence, structure a meeting, and decide what needs to happen next.


We can also help you create the policies and procedures that will determine what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour at work. To learn more, call one of our advisors on 020 7870 1090.

Author David Ralph

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