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It’s OK…You Can Tell Me

January 26, 2011

Recently, both Marissa Keegan and Kris Dunn wrote about the ability of great HR pros to get people to talk and, as Marissa put it, “spill the beans.”

It got me thinking about some of the interesting pieces of information I’ve been able to pull from employees and candidates over the years.  I’ve gotten personal revelations about times that people:

  • Cheated, lied and stole
  • Drank on the job – excessively
  • Used and/or sold drugs and other illegal substances… on the job
  • Mistreated a patient (health care)
  • Wrote threatening letters or made threatening phone calls to co-workers
  • Made extraordinarily unwelcome sexual advances to co-workers and customers
  • And on and on

And as I pondered back on some of these situations, I realized that many of them were incidents that occurred with no witnesses (he-said/she-said) and without any substantive ‘evidence.’  And in the case of the candidates, not necessarily the sorts of things one has any specific expectation of uncovering during an interview.  But still, people have told me the most extraordinary things.  As Kris pointed out, there may be attributes that a strong HR Pro possesses and uses to create the right setting/climate for getting that information:

“Empathy.  Patience.  Acting.  Perhaps even an open mind going in, which translates into empathy that’s believable and authentic.”


Having those conversations is not always easy and not always fun.  But it’s definitely rewarding when an employee or candidate feels safe enough to disclose and purge… whether I’m investigating a workplace incident or probing during an interview.

And while getting the information is important, there’s also the need to close the loop at the end.  Sure, bad stuff went down and action needs to be taken.  But behind the bad stuff is a person who made the wrong choice…exit them from the company or the interview process with as much compasion and understanding as possible.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 7:18 am

    As one famous movie star said, “The wailing wall is over there” I just read a study that less than 45% of women who are sexually harassed will come forward. Thanks for the post. HR does have to have antenna- there is much that is good out there and then there is the rest…

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