How to Conduct
a Counseling Session
When conducting a counseling session, there are several guidelines you
should follow in order to minimize the potential conflict. Most
importantly you should not view the session as an opportunity to scold
the employee or as a means to threaten the employee with disciplinary
action. Your purpose is not to punish or reprimand someone, but to
determine the cause of the circumstances about which you are concerned.
In this light, you should view counseling as a problem-solving exercise.
For example: If the employee has been tardy, what prevents the employee
from arriving at work on time? How can the employee remedy the problem?
In this respect, it is the supervisor's job to set the tone of the
meeting, putting the employee at ease as much as possible.
Certainly, where an employee's performance has consistently fallen below
standards, it may be necessary for you to advise the employee that
failure to respond to the counseling and perform adequately may result
in disciplinary action. Examples of poor
Additionally, there are a number of other guidelines which are helpful
to understand when counseling employees:
- Be prepared. Spend time reviewing the facts and defining your
objective for the session. You may find it useful to prepare a set of
“talking points” in advance to help you be clear about the issues and
point you wish to make. These talking points do not become the
- Counseling sessions should always be conducted in private. If
you have an office, perhaps that is the best place to schedule the
meeting. If not, you should seek another private room away from an
employee's co-workers or the people being served by the agency. Failure
to provide a private surrounding is likely to create a feeling of
humiliation for the employee, which may manifest itself in more, rather
than fewer, violations of rules.
- Never schedule a counseling session with an employee when you are
rushed with other duties. It will leave the impression that your
concern is minimal if you are frequently interrupted, must constantly
look at your watch, or you rush the employee out after only a few
minutes and before your discussion is complete.
- When an employee enters your office, act in a manner consistent
with your normal demeanor. If you are normally relaxed with an
employee, be yourself. Otherwise, the employee will believe that the
discussion implies a personal conflict. This should be avoided.
- Consider setting ground rules. For example, tell the employee
that you are hoping for a conversation to work out the issue. You may
say something like “Please hear me out without interruptions, and then I
will listen to you and your point of view without interrupting you.” If
it is true, let the employee know you expect to be able to resolve the
issue in a positive way.
- Be direct and candid. After greeting and making the employee
comfortable, go directly to the reason for the meeting. Do not make
“small talk.” Avoid chatting or asking general questions like, "Anything
interesting happen today?" Questions such as these simply make employees
suspicious of your motives.
- In broaching the issue(s), you should explain the exact nature of
your concern, making clear what has been observed and why it is
important. For example, you might say: "I received a report today
that you were rude to two customers. Obviously, the report concerns me.
I want to take this opportunity to discuss the report with you and hear
from you what happened." If you already know the names of the two
customers involved, you might have added that to the introductory
remarks. You should present your concerns directly and openly to the
- Where employees are cooperative, your job will be confined to
determining what the employee's view of the incident is. For
example, if the employee responded to your statement, by saying, "Yes,
that is true," you should follow-up by asking: "Could you give me the
details from your point of view? How did this come about?"
- Some employees may be hostile. In those cases, you should
remain calm, speaking in measured voice. Because someone yells at you,
it does not mean that you must yell back. You are the supervisor and to
control the meeting you must control your emotions and reactions. Rather
than reacting to the employee's hostility, you should redirect the
employee's attention to your concern: “What occurred in the incident or
issue being discussed?” “Why did it happen?” “How can we improve
performance to ensure it does not happen again?” If the employee
continues to behave in a hostile or abusive manner toward you, you
should calmly advise the employee that such behavior may result in
disciplinary action. If the behavior continues, you should halt the
session and discuss the matter with your supervisor or Human Resource
Management. It should be noted that merely disagreeing with the
facts as presented is not necessarily hostile behavior on the part of
- Focus on the behavior of the employee, not the employee's
"character" or "morality." An employee is more likely to understand
that he or she has behaved incorrectly in a particular circumstance than
to accept a supervisor's assertion that his or her basic character is
unacceptable. For example, it is appropriate to say, “Your behavior on
the ward today was rude,” but it is never appropriate to say, “You are a
- Be a good listener. Give the employee the opportunity to
explain his or her version of the incident or circumstances about which
you are concerned. Don’t interrupt the employee while they are talking.
- Keep an open mind during the counseling session. If the
discussion raises a question or reveals that your information was
incorrect, or the employee's
explanation is satisfactory, say so to the employee. Even where the
employee's explanation is not satisfactory, the employee is more likely
to accept your judgment if you have given him or her the opportunity to
- In listening to the employee's version of the incidents, a number of
possible explanations may emerge. After hearing the employee's
explanation, you must decide whether other actions may be appropriate in
addition to reinforcing to the employee what the rules are. For
example, the employee may need additional training, or perhaps
reassignment so a supervisor can give closer instruction. You may not
wish to make those decisions at the time of the counseling, but ask to
see the employee at a later date after you have considered the options
with other supervisors in your unit.
- If the employee indicates that the problem is personal, or if you
have some indication that the problem is other than work related,
tell the employee about available assistance, such as the Employee
Assistance Program (EAP),
which can help employees deal with personal problems.
- Reach an understanding on the corrective action which will be
taken and set a definite follow-up date.
- At the conclusion of the counseling session, you should thank the
employee for seeing you and extend yourself to the employee should
further problems of this nature arise. Ultimately you want the employee
to know that you are available to assist in solving such problems before
they erupt into the types of incidents which prompted the counseling
- If you intend to confirm the session in writing, inform the employee
that you intend to write a counseling memo and that a copy will be
placed in their personnel file.