Talking to your employer

Following our guide may help you have a successful discussion with your employer

Prepare for your discussion

Make sure you are clear on what you want to discuss, why you want to discuss it, and what you think you would like the outcome of the discussion to be. Make sure you have a reality check on this- talk it over with someone you trust to make sure have perspective about the situation. Write down everything down that you want to say so you don’t forget anything, including what the problem is and why you think it’s a problem. Putting it in writing can also give you a new perspective, think about whether what you have written looks reasonable. Try to understand the real cause of the problem.

Writing down what you think your employer will think can help you see things from their side.

Have a look at the relevant information on our website eg if the discussion is related to your minimum rights, look at our Minimum rights and responsibilities guide. Make sure you have the correct information before you discuss entitlements with your employer.

Think about your preferred outcome and be honest with yourself about what you really want from the discussion. Do you only want to vent so you feel better or do you want to resolve the issue?

You can use our template ‘My discussion plan’ [DOCX 23KB]to help you plan and record your discussion.

Arrange the meeting

Don’t blindside your employer, if there is something you want to raise with them, give them time to prepare for it too. 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 to avoid starting off badly. Try not to approach your employer at their busiest time, but don’t put it off too long. Make sure you can talk uninterrupted in a private area. Make sure you are talking to the right person, eg the payroll person may be the right person to approach in the first instance for a payroll related question. Avoid emotional statements by using “I” instead of “you”. For example, “I would like to talk about this problem with you” rather than “There is a problem and you have to fix it”

You can say something like:

"Hi Benjamin, I’d like to have a chat with you about my pay as I don’t understand how my annual holidays payment is being calculated. Is now a good time or is there a better time for us to meet?"

In the meeting

Emotions can be a part of any difficult discussion and while you need to try to keep them in check during workplace discussions you should also acknowledge and respect each other’s feelings. If you keep calm and are respectful then the other person is also more likely to stay calm and be respectful to you.

  • Don’t try to dominate the other person or let yourself be dominated

  • Try to be confident and assertive, not aggressive, defensive, competitive or combative (a support person or representative can 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 involved

  • Be objective and try not to let emotions and feelings get in your way. If you feel your emotions (eg nervousness, anger, frustration or fear) are rising, take some deep breaths, ask for a break or have a drink of water

  • Be the bigger person, even if the other person doesn’t behave as well as you are, and avoid escalating matters

  • Think about your future relationship, don’t burn any bridges with your employer

If the other person’s behaviour becomes inappropriate (eg shouting, ridiculing, making you feel afraid or uncomfortable), keep calm and end the meeting.  You could say eg “I think we’ve done all we can on this issue today, let’s leave it here for now”. A break will 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 clear and to the point. Try not to speak too fast or too loudly. Respect the other person’s personal space. Use examples and tell your employer what impact the issue is having on you and on your work. Stick to the facts and don’t blame or use blaming language (or name calling). For example “When you do (the behaviour), I feel humiliated” not “you humiliate me” or “you are a piece of work”. Don’t assume that the issue happened deliberately or maliciously, it may have been a misunderstanding, mistake or oversight.

Use specific examples if you can.

If your employer interrupts you, politely ask if they can let you finish first and then give their response, to make sure both of you are clear on the whole situation from each other’s perspective and that nothing gets left out. For example “Can I please finish telling you my position before you comment so that I can be clear that I have covered everything I want to say. Then you will be able to fully respond to all of my concerns”. Make sure you extend the same courtesy to your employer and listen to them without interrupting when it is their turn.

Expect that your employer might be surprised or upset by what you have said and remember 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. For example “I can see that you feel strongly about this issue too. Hopefully we will be able to work it out together”.

When you have finished, it is your employer’s turn to provide their response to you. Listen without interrupting and take notes. If your employer is speaking too fast or using technical or other language you don’t understand, ask them to slow down and speak more simply. If there is something you feel you must say or respond to, make a note of it so you remember to say it later. See our advice on active listening for more information.

Keep an open mind, 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 direction while they are talking.

Try to think about the situation from your employer’s perspective as well, there may be something you hadn’t considered or didn’t know about.

Ask questions at the end 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 their facts or the documentation you have provided. If this happens, you are likely to get a better outcome if you arrange a follow-up meeting rather than try to continue.

After your employer has given their response to you, you should think about whether your position has changed and say what your position now is. 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.

Work with your employer to find possible solutions. The possible solutions you came up with before your meeting may not still apply so be open to finding new solutions together. Remember that no solution can take away your minimum entitlements under the law even if you agree to it. Suggest ways to move forward to resolve the situation. Giving different (and realistic) ways to resolve the issue, shows your employer that you are keen to move forward. When you are open to searching for an alternative, your employer is often likely to do the same.

Be open to any solutions that your employer comes up with and consider them reasonably.

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.

Agree on action points and next steps. This could include:

  • a summary of where you and your employer are at
  • details of what you both need to do to resolve the issue
  • a date for any follow-up meeting

Make sure you both have the same understanding of the next steps. Write them down and make sure you have agreed who is responsible for what, by when. If you have a review date, 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 to disagree so you can end the discussion. In some situations you may have to take further steps to fix the problem.

When you have agreed on the way forward, you are ready to close the discussion.

Try to close the discussion in a positive way. Say thank you to your employer eg for meeting with you, listening to what you had to say, coming up with a solution etc. For example:

“Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I’m glad we could discuss this. I look forward to an update next week.”

“Ok so I will work on …. And you will ... and we will have regular weekly catch ups from now on. Thank you again.”

“Thanks for listening to my concerns today, I appreciate it.”

After the discussion

Reflect on the discussion and your own reactions. 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 discrete and try not to gossip about the discussion with your workmates.

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 your employer again.

Make sure you do the things you agreed to do.

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, you can:

  • seek advice from your Human Resources representatives within your workplace if you have one
  • seek advice from your union
  • contact our service centre
  • contact the Employment Mediation Service
  • seek advice from your legal representative

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