Communication is the foundation of trust, especially in the office.

As tempting as it may be to skip out on having hard conversations at work — whether they’re about performance, behavioral issues, or unmet expectations — avoiding these discussions can have deeper consequences. Three in 10 employees say that their managers don’t encourage a culture of open and transparent communication, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

The key to navigating tricky conversations is to create an atmosphere of safety that allows employees to open up and gives them an opportunity to be heard. “It’s always a good idea to address issues before they escalate larger ones,” says Yuletta Pringle, an SHRM HR Knowledge Advisor. Doing so you could save your company from increased turnovers and even legal claims.

Don’t know where to start? Below are a few tips on how to effectively handle challenging topics.

Do your homework.

“Prepare yourself for this meeting by researching the topic of discussion,” says Pringle. This might mean reviewing or gathering information obtained from supervisors or putting together a list of facts and resources that could help support or resolve the issue at-hand.

“If this is a discussion on [a mental health issue] exhibited by an employee, then be prepared with a … hotline number and contact information for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP),” says Pringle. If the conversation is about poor conduct and performance issues, however, then make sure you have a record of the late arrivals, absences, client complaints, and any other relevant information.

You should also find the appropriate setting if you’re having the conversation in-person. “Some discussions may require … a room without a view by other employees or any onlookers, such as an office with glass walls,” says Pringle. “Other situations may simply require a quiet and private space, such as an empty break room.”

Make it a two-way street.

These kinds of hard conversations at work shouldn’t be lectures, but discussions, suggests Pringle. “Listen to any responses or explanations provided by the employee.” Showing empathy and defining the desired outcome can help put employees at ease and empower them to make improvements.

“Some employees believe that confidential means that only the two parties in the room will have knowledge of the conversation,” says Pringle. But that might not necessarily be the case. “Discuss what information will be shared and with whom it will be shared.” The goal is to be clear and upfront, so be transparent about confidentiality as well as any disciplinary actions.

Don’t make assumptions.

It can be easy to jump to conclusions, even if you’ve done your research. But it’s important to get the whole picture — there could be a reason behind an employee’s behavior that you’re not aware of.

“These discussions can quickly transform into a forum for employers to give their opinions or display their personal biases,” cautions Pringle. “It is important to keep an open mind.”

That might mean taking into account employees’ personal, cultural, genetic, and familial history, which Pringle says could “affect their views on the situation as well as the reception of the guidance being provided by their employers.”

End on a positive note.

Before you end the meeting, make sure everyone’s on the same page and that next steps are clear. “Ask the employee to recap any suggestions made in relation to the topic of discussion,” Pringle suggests. “Then follow up with the employee or even ask them to follow up with you.”

“Difficult conversations with employees can remove the proverbial ‘pink elephant’ from the room,” says Pringle, which is why it’s important to have hard conversations at work in the first place — and to find ways to communicate on an ongoing basis.