Managing Difficult Conversations, Remotely

In our October webinar, Dr. Kristin Powell shared her insights for creating a culture where difficult conversations are not so hard. Having the tough talk gets a little more complicated with remote employees, so let’s review a few tips to make those conversations successful.

Address Issues, Behaviors, and Misunderstandings Head-On

You know when something doesn’t “sit well” with you. It could be a misunderstanding over something a co-worker said. Or perhaps you are reading too much into an employee consistently appearing defensive. It’s best to address any such concerns as close to “real time” as possible. That way the behavior is fresh and hasn’t had time to fade from memory or build up into something bigger than it needs to be.

Be Prepared

In just the same way that you would prepare for an interview, sales pitch, or salary negotiation, you need to prepare for your difficult conversation. You’ll need facts, examples, and neutral sounding questions. You’ll also want to anticipate likely responses and how you will handle them. This is really important with remote conversations, since reading the other person’s facial expressions and body language is so much more difficult.

Reiterate Positive Intent

Let the other person know you care about them and share the common goal of making XYZ (team, organizational objectives, etc.) work for everyone. That’s why you’d like to talk about this issue, it seems to be getting in the way of that common goal. Express that it is your intent to 1) understand, and 2) help resolve. With remote employees, it’s good to have some additional resources you can share that can help them continue the behavior change you are asking for even after you disconnect.

Allow Time to Hear Their Side

Difficult conversations are not a one way street. For some reason, video tends to make these kinds of conversations more lopsided than normal. Pay special attention to the opportunities you give for the other person to share their perceptions. Ask questions like “is there something I may be missing?” or “can you tell me more about what you meant?”

Always Follow Up

If an issue is important enough to require a tough talk, it’s not likely to be a one-and-done thing. The follow up to a difficult conversation can be just as important as the conversation itself, particularly with remote employees. During your conversation, agree on what would be a reasonable amount of time to check back in. This lets your remote employee or co-worker know that you care enough to make see the resolution through.

Having these conversations isn’t easy, but not having them is worse! Make sure your remote teams get the same level of feedback as your in-office teams do to keep everyone performing at their best.




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