Talking to your employer

This guide may help you have a successful discussion with your employer

Prepare for your discussion

Before having a discussion with your employer, make sure you are clear on what you want to discuss, why you want to discuss it, and what you would like the outcome of the discussion to be. It can be helpful to talk to someone you trust to get a different perspective about the situation.

Write down everything that you want to say so you don’t forget anything, including what the problem is and why you think it’s a problem. You can use our template to help you plan and record your discussion so you don’t forget anything.

‘My discussion plan’ [DOCX 23KB]

Writing down what you think your employer’s perspective of the issue will be can help you see things from their side.

Arrange the meeting

Don’t surprise your employer. If there is something you want to raise with them, give your employer time to prepare. For example, if you want to talk about your pay, let them know what your concerns are before you meet so that they can bring the right information. It is usually better to do this in person. Make sure you can talk uninterrupted in a private area and that you are talking to the right person. For example, the payroll person may be the right person to approach in the first instance for a payroll related question.

In the meeting

These six steps will guide you through meeting with your employer. These six steps will guide you through meeting with your employer.

Step 1 Stay calm

Emotions can be a part of any difficult conversation. If you keep calm and are respectful, then the other person is likely to do the same.

  • Try to be confident and assertive, but not aggressive, defensive or combative. A support person or representative could help you with this.
  • Be professional. Think before you speak and don’t try to humiliate your employer, treat them like you would like them to treat you.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person, or people, involved.
  • Be objective and try not to let emotions and feelings get in the way. If you feel your emotions (eg nervousness, anger, frustration or fear) are getting the better of you, take some deep breaths, ask for a break or have a drink of water.
  • Think about your future relationship. Try not to say anything that will damage the relationship with your employer.

If the other person’s behaviour becomes inappropriate, for example, shouting, making you feel ridiculed or uncomfortable, keep calm and end the meeting. A break will help cool things down and give both people time to reflect on the situation. You can also use this time to seek advice on what to do next.

Be prepared to take notes during the conversation.  If you want to record the meeting on your phone, advise your employer that you would like to do so. Don’t do it secretly.

Step 2 Explain the issue

When explaining the issue to your employer:

  • Be clear and to the point. Sticking to your discussion plan may help you stay on topic. 
  • Try not to speak too fast or loudly and respect the other person’s personal space. 
  • Use specific examples and tell your employer what impact the issue is having on you and on your work.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Don’t assume that the issue happened deliberately or maliciously, it may have been a misunderstanding, mistake or oversight.

If your employer interrupts you, politely ask if they can let you finish explaining the issue first and that they can then give you their response.

This will make sure you are both clear about the situation from each other’s perspective and that nothing gets missed. Make sure you extend the same courtesy to your employer and listen to them without interrupting when it is their turn.

Your employer might be surprised or upset by what you have said, they have not had as much time to think about the issue as you. If your employer responds emotionally, try to acknowledge their feelings without becoming emotional yourself. 

Step 3 Listen to your employer

When you have finished explaining the issue, let your employer give their response to you. 

  • Listen without interrupting, take notes instead. 
  • If your employer is speaking too fast or using technical language, or other language you don’t understand, ask them to slow down and speak more plainly. 
  • If there is something you feel you need to say or respond to, make a note of it so you remember to say it later.

Keep an open mind and wait until your employer has finished speaking before you form a view on what they are saying. Some people think aloud and the employer may change their position while they are talking. Try to think about the situation from your employer’s point of view, as there may be something you hadn’t considered or didn’t know.

Ask questions at the end of your conversation to show your employer you have listened and to help you understand your employer’s point of view.

In some cases, your employer may need time to consider their response, or check facts and any documentation you have provided. If this happens, it may be helpful to arrange a follow up meeting.

Once you have all the facts you may change your view. Don’t worry about seeming to lose face if you have changed your position once you have all the facts. Your employer should respect you for acknowledging it and be more likely to move from their position too.

Step 4 Look for solutions

Work with your employer to find possible solutions to the issue. Remember that no solution can take away your minimum entitlements under the law, even if you agree to it. Giving different and realistic ways to resolve the issue shows your employer that you are keen to move forward. Be open to any solutions that your employer comes up with and consider them realistically.

Be prepared to accept that your employer may not admit fault or apologise, even if they are at fault. If this happens, try not to react emotionally.

Step 5 Agree on how to move forward

Agree on action points with your employer and any next steps. This could include:

  • a summary of where you and your employer agree and disagree
  • details of what you both need to do to resolve the issue, and
  • a date for any follow-up meetings.

Make sure you both understand the next steps. Write them down and make sure you have agreed who is responsible for what. If you have a review date, it is helpful to set this now. Keeping notes is important in case you need to refer back to what was said or agreed at a later date.

If you can’t agree on the issues, or a solution, then you should agree that you have different views and end the discussion. In some situations you may have to take further steps to fix the problem, this could include asking your employer to attend mediation.

Mediation

Step 6 End the discussion

Once you have agreed on a solution, or that you have different views, try to end the discussion positively. Thank your employer for meeting with you and listening to what you had to say.

After the discussion

Think about the conversation you had with your employer. Work out what you have learnt from the experience and think about what you would do differently next time. Talking it over with a support person or a family member can help you to see the situation from a different perspective. Be discreet and do not to gossip about the discussion with your workmates. Make sure you do the things you agreed with your employer to do.

If you think you may have overreacted during the discussion, tell your employer when you have calmed down and ask if you can meet with them again.

Even if the discussion didn’t go as you had hoped, remain professional at work and keep communication lines open with your employer.

If you didn’t resolve the problem

If you haven’t been able to reach an agreement with your employer, you can:

  • seek advice from your Human Resources representatives in your workplace, if you have one
  • seek advice from your union, if you have one
  • seek advice from a lawyer or employment advocate
  • contact us
  • request a free mediation

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