The Advisor’s Corner – How Should I Address Sensitive Subjects With My Staff?

How Should I Address Sensitive Subjects With My Staff?Question:

How can I navigate ‘touchy’ subjects with my staff?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

If you read no further, remember this – it is a fact that “the truth will set you free!” What is also a fact is, HOW you share your truth matters as much or more than WHAT you share. Some of the hardest things leaders have to do are deal with delicate employee relation’s issues and/or tough business realities that impact their people. Most leaders are ill equipped, and have had very little, if any, training or good experience in this area.

Workplace issues with employees show up because people are messy and groups are messy. Deep down, leaders know this is reality. It’s not as simple as, “Why can’t everyone just be happy, do their job, and get along?” Right? Life isn’t that simple for any of us. There are effective ways to navigate your people and organization to a better place in tough times.

The answer to preventing and/or resolving delicate employee or business issues begins with creating the culture you want within your business, hiring well in the first place, leading people effectively, and finally managing performance consistently.

The leader sets the expectations and tone, and must hold all staff accountable, including herself or himself. All leaders within the organization have a big impact on everything, everyday. This means no individual who holds a leadership role is off the hook.

Here are four guidelines for navigating sensitive issues with employees:

  1. Don’t assume anything or react immediately – check out all the facts, just like you would expect from a good audit or quality assurance assessment. Make sure you are confident in your conclusions.
  2. Utilize Constructive Feedback skills and methods. The kindest thing you can do for an employee is tell the TRUTH – RESPECTFULLY. Make sure your motivations are positive and convey your positive intent in helping them.
  3. Resolve conflicts as soon as possible. Don’t hope they will go away – they rarely do. A large percentage of conflicts arise from miscommunication, lack of clarity of expectations or both.
  4. Demonstrate empathy –try hard to walk a mile in his or her shoes before you say anything you might regret. This means LISTEN deeply.

If the tough situation is something like layoffs or cost cutting, and you aren’t even sure about the end game, the people who work for you still deserve to know as much as you are able to share.

Transparency – transparency – transparency! In a small or even mid-sized office, everyone can smell trouble. There is no hiding it. Most people fill in the blank spaces with bad news, not good news. Rumors start, and those are often worse than reality. This is toxic for any group and will hurt your customers as well.

Since you can’t hide it, tell the truth. Rather than losing sleep over how people will respond, tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know and tell them what you can’t tell them and why. Then manage the emotions by allowing their voice to be heard and engage in solutions as much as they can.

As you consider how to help your people work things out or when you must share tough news, consider these 2 RULES:

  1. The Golden Rule is about fairness – how YOU would like to be treated.
  2. The Platinum Rule is about empathy – how HE/SHE wants to be treated, considering what they need, not just what do you need.

By keeping these two rules smack in the front of your mind as you embark on tough conversations of any kind will help you navigate them, and help you sleep at night.

About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.

The StrategyDriven website was created to provide members of our community with insights to the actions that help create the shared vision, focus, and commitment needed to improve organizational alignment and accountability for the achievement of superior results. We look forward to answering your strategic planning and tactical business execution questions. Please email your questions to [email protected].

StrategyDriven Diversity and Inclusion Forum

“Diversity and inclusion exists when members of an organization act in a manner that recognizes and respects individual similarities and differences such that employees feel they and their work are valued and meaningfully contribute to the mission of the organization.”

StrategyDriven Contributors

Remaining relevant in today’s hyper-competitive business environment requires the full engagement of an organization’s workforce and the retention of highly talented employees. To accomplish this, leaders must capture the passion and commitment of subordinates by providing them with work that has a meaningful impactful on others and is quantifiablely measurable and rewarded; all while connecting with them on a personal level. Similarly, individuals need to connect with their peers in a way that makes them feel their contributions meaningfully add to the team and the organization’s overall success. Simply put, individuals seek to be valuable to and valued by their organizations; limited only by their abilities and desires. Without this sense of value and connectedness, a job becomes nothing more than the means to a paycheck, productivity declines toward that which is required to maintain employment, and attrition rises as employees seek more fulfilling work; all at great cost to the organization.

Gallup researchers found that within the average organization:

  • 29 percent of employees are engaged; working with passion and feeling connected to their company
  • 56 percent of employees are not engaged; putting in time but not energy or passion into their work
  • 15 percent of employees are actively disengaged; acting out their unhappiness and undermining the accomplishments of engaged employees

This research also showed that engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.

Source: Gallup Study: Engaged Employees Inspire Company Innovation, Gallup Management Journal, October 2006

Increasing workforce diversification challenges all members of an organization attempting to satisfy the individual value proposition. Differences in age, race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation to name but only a few, influence what makes individuals feel valued. Studies have shown the degree to which an individual feels valued by his/her superiors and peers in large part defines his/her work engagement and the subsequent value offered to the organization. Thus, the challenge is a circular one best solved by fostering an organizational culture that respects and embraces diversity and inclusion.

Focus of the Diversity and Inclusion Forum

While there exists a natural association between diversity and inclusion and organizational accountability, this forum will focus on the principles, best practices, and warning flags associated with establishing and maintaining a workplace environment that respects and values individual differences in order to earn full employee engagement and commitment to the achievement of the organization’s goals. The following articles, podcasts, documents, and resources cover those topics critical to enhancing workplace diversity and inclusion.

For additional information on creating a positive, motivating workplace environment, visit the StrategyDriven Employee Engagement Center of Excellence.



Best Practices

Warning Flags

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor Articles

StrategyDriven Podcasts

StrategyDriven Podcast – Video Edition

StrategyDriven Podcast – Special Edition


Tools and Templates




Training Courses