Conflict Management: Real-Life Applications of Assertiveness - Reprimand - Early Retirement Interview

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Conflict Management: Two Examples of Practical Applications of Assertiveness

As we have seen in previous articles, the practice of assertiveness (definition) consists in seeking a mutually satisfactory compromise in difficult situations and/or conflicts…The aim of this article is to illustrate the usefulness of practicing assertiveness through the concrete examples of the reprimand and early retirement interviews.


The reprimand interview is an unpleasant but sometimes necessary exercise. It should be conducted when the employee has moved away from the line of goals dictated by organizational goals. Specifically, the act of reprimand should be performed in two different situations: 1) in case of faulty work  or 2) in the event of non-completion of the requested tasks. In both situations, great importance would be given to feedback and how it is conveyed. During a reprimand interview, the following principles should be abided by, in addition to the use of an "assertive" attitude:

  • Maintain the person's self-esteem
  • Listen / respond with empathy
  • Describe in details the fault / bad habit / poor performance
  • Explain your own concerns
  • Ask the employee about the reasons behind this behavior and listen carefully to what he/she has to say
  • Emphasize the importance of changing the situation and ask for relevant suggestions
  • Discuss each idea and offer help
  • Agree on and schedule follow-up actions

In all cases, it is important to make a distinction between 1) the facts and 2) the emotional and subjective aspects of the relationship (perceptions, judgments, impressions, emotional distortions…). The use of communication techniques such as the "DESC" method (diagram) or active listening (definition) can prove to be particularly fruitful.


The retirement of an employee who has reached the legal retirement age is a simple act of management that usually does not represent a real operational or relational issue. The employee may be disappointed or feel indifferent about the retirement. However, both the employer and the employee tend to do well out of it, and in most cases, the related interview takes place without any particular difficulty.

Early retirement, however, may occur at an unsuitable time and can therefore greatly destabilize either the employer or the employee. In order to mitigate – if not eliminate – the negative impact of an early retirement announcement, the following "rules" should be complied with. Obviously, such an attitude will be heavily reliant on the practice of assertiveness: 

  • State the facts in a calm and concise manner (stating facts and mentioning the antecedents); separate the problem from the person (the real issue is not the person, it’s the situation)
  • Encourage the person to express what he/she feels (to a certain extent)
  • Do not give any advice, even if it makes you sad to announce the news
  • Do not unnecessarily prolong the meeting, but say that you are available in case the employee needs any help in the practical implementation of the decision and the announcement to others

This is quite a sensitive issue. And indeed, many HR practitioners would agree that an early retirement interview (guidelines) is often even more difficult to conduct than a dismissal interview (guidelines)!

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