HR pros know managers can land your company in trouble when supervisors aren’t careful about what they say around the office.  

If the wrong thing slips out in conversations, an employee might misconstrue a manager’s comments as bias against certain people.

And that can lead them to discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuits.

Touchy topics

Employment law attorney D. Albert Brannen of the firm Fisher &?Phillips listed at MultiBriefs the top six conversation topics that get managers in trouble.

According to Brennan, the riskiest topics for managers to discuss were:

  • race and ethnicity
  • romance and sex
  • religion
  • health issues
  • drug and alcohol use, and
  • personal finances.

Beyond putting you at risk at for a lawsuit, talking about these kinds of topics can make employees feel singled out, angry or uncomfortable, which can lower employee morale and hurt productivity.

Some additional topics Brannen suggests managers avoid:

  • politics
  • criticisms of the employer and co-workers, and
  • off-color jokes.

These topics, too, can lead to any number of problems.

It’s also worth reminding managers that they are representatives of your company, so their actions reflect as much on the company as themselves.

Dealing with the employee who just wants to argue

The one thing all of those verboten topics has in common: they’re bound to start arguments. Which brings us to another area managers have to deal with: the employee who just won’t stop arguing about … well, everything.

In work, as in life, some differences of opinion are bound to happen, simply because no two people are alike.

Sometimes these differences don’t get settled very well and result in an employee being argumentative in a way that undermines authority.

Managers must deal with these employees quickly to prevent the behavior from worsening.

This means communicating with the employee in a respectful way and discussing the problem based on facts rather than emotions.

A word of caution: The manager shouldn’t  presume the employee knows he has been argumentative. He may have been trying to assert himself to show independence, for example, and people do not always perceive the same situation in the same way.

Generally it helps to give specific examples of overly argumentative interactions, so the offending person can better understand.

So, the manager should take the employee behind closed doors and say something like the following:

John, in recent weeks you have grown to be argumentative and you have become an obstructionist.

We need to get you back on track and to get on with the job here, and your constant arguments are holding us up.

You are prolonging the discussion well past the point of reason. We have heard your arguments and we have considered them.

We have explained why we have decided to go forward on the present plan. We need everyone’s cooperation for that plan to succeed. The time for arguments is past.

Do you understand and can I have your agreement that we will go forward and all pull together on this?


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