It is always a challenging issue in the workplace if a colleague comes to you with a problem. They may have been stewing the thoughts over in their mind for weeks, maybe months. Dealing with it in confidence as a boss AND lending a sympathetic ear to proceedings requires striking the right balance. We shall go into what is the best way to deal with sensitive issues in the workplace as a person in an authoritative position.
Choose The Right Space To Talk
Firstly, choose an appropriate place to have the conversation. If someone has come to you, don’t be taking them to the back of an open plan office. Or to a meeting room where there is a window that everyone can see what’s going on, it may very likely cause anxiety. A quiet space where the person feels comfortable is recommended.
Encouraging the person to talk can be a task. People can find it difficult to discuss their problems openly. In this instance, the best approach is to ask simple and open questions, instead of closed questions (ones that only end in yes or no). This will help start a dialogue with the person and so they feel they can open up.
Ensure That You Are Being Confidential At Every Turn
This is paramount in the workplace. You are dealing with sensitive information being discussed by a work colleague. This person may be having a tough time at home, such as going through a divorce, so ask them what information they would like to remain confidential and what information they are happy to have shared.
As a referral may need to be made to Human Resources or Occupational Health. An extremely serious matter such as sexual assault is not to be taken lightly, and confidentiality needs to be exercised.
Listen To Them
It can be too easy to smile and nod at the right point in a conversation, but would you do this if a close friend was opening their heart up to you? This person is confiding in you in a sensitive situation and are likely to be feeling incredibly vulnerable. They could be going through issues relating to mental health and this could be the first time they are speaking about it. Respond accordingly and remain open and adaptable to their needs in that very moment.
Make The Work Adjustments For Them
After the issue has been discussed, ask the person what support or help they need. It may help to develop an action plan to help identify workplace triggers. Or time away from work may be required for the employee. If they are feeling they are able to continue to contribute to the work, set up a way for them to work from home. If they need time away, upon their return, schedule a return to work interview. Give them the time and space they need.
It is easy to remain impartial if you are looking at it from a business perspective, but be wary about how this makes you appear to your colleagues. Being open and listening are two key tools to helping your colleague get through their problem.