May 06

Managing conversations that matter during COVID-19

Not so long ago, before lockdown, we took many things for granted, in our workplace and in our personal lives. For most of us worker-bees, it was axiomatic that we had “the workplace”, that shared physical space where we shared the daily tasks, encounters, frustrations, joys, rituals, meetings and celebrations of our respective workplaces. And where too, on a daily basis as needed, the supervisor, team leader or manager would give direct encouragement, feedback and support.

Hopefully, much less frequently, the supervisors and managers needed to also undertake conversations to address serious workplace concerns about behaviour, performance or attitude. The very idea, in the pre-COVID era, of resorting to a phone call, or a platform like Zoom, to discuss any of these issues would have been highly unorthodox. But that was then, and this, is now.

Dealing with difficult conversations about inappropriate behaviour during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an ongoing and significant impact on many organisations. The vast majority of us who continue to have employment are now working remotely, everyone from the CEO down. But whilst everyone is now beavering away in their respective domestic burrows, the need for managers to have difficult conversations to address critical issues around performance, appropriate behaviour and other issues of concern does not go away.

In fact, the need for managers to not only support and communicate with their staff, but to also resolve red-flag issues of behaviour or performance risk are as great as ever.

Issues that come across your supervisory radar need to be addressed as soon as they appear. The fact that individual staff are not currently occupying the same physical space as yourself is not a reason to delay or rationalise taking action.

For example, say you get a serious of furtive calls from various members of your team. Each team member informs you, “off the record”, that another team member is:

  • spreading destructive gossip about a particular client or team member or
  • disseminating lewid pictures through the organisation’s instantaneous internal chat platform or
  • pretending to work, but in fact is having a Netflix binge, and boasting about it on a Facebook page (which was not as private as thought), or
  • digitally reappropriating other members’ work and stating that it was his own

If you had received this intel, (or “noise”, as I also like to call it, given it is not proven behaviour), when everyone, pre-COVID was present at the office, then you would not hesitate to commence a conversation with that relevant team member to resolve the issues.

There is no difference in the need to do so now, just because we are all remotely working.

How to manage these conversations effectively

What changes, of course, is the fact that you need to be more mindful, skilled and even more proactive about ensuring you have this type of conversation that works. In contrast to a face to face discussion, a conversation either via Zoom or on the phone is different, both in terms of the degree of immediacy, and also the fact that it is not occurring in the office with all the implicit messages that accompany such conversations of accountability.

Every conversation should aim to be as constructive as possible, and not exacerbate underlying tensions, conflicts and issues. They should always be underpinned by curiosity and emotionally intelligence.

So, for instance, in addressing any of the issues above, don’t prevaricate, put it in the too hard basket, or kid yourself that it can wait till “one fine day” (apologies to Madame Butterfly), in the longed for post-lockdown area.

Instead, consider the following, and plan accordingly as to:

  • How you will broach and plan the conversation
  • What you will set out in your opening statement of concern
  • How you will navigate and respond flexibly and calmly to whatever response (or lack thereof) you then receive
  • How you will remain conscious of the dynamics of Zoom or a phone call, compared to a face-to-face conversation.

If that sounds like something that you are able to conduct effortlessly, then you are, indeed, in no need of any further skills development. On the other hand, if you (or your leadership team) need some support to further improve conducting such conversations in these Covidian times, then please ensure they have the support they need – perhaps by coming along to our training on this very topic.

Training to help you manage difficult conversations

“Managing COVID-19 Difficult Conversations” is designed to support team leaders and managers who have to effectively conduct these challenging conversations in an environment where they cannot even be held face to face.

As a result of this two hour interactive session on Wednesday 13 May from 2 to 4 p.m., you will be able to:

  • identify and plan for the challenges of conversations that are not “face to face”;
  • create and deliver a clear opening statement; and
  • navigate and respond to challenging behaviour during the ensuing conversation

Register now! Please note numbers are strictly limited.

About Grevis Beard

Grevis Beard, Worklogic Director, is a highly experienced and widely respected author, dynamic speaker and trainer, and workplace investigator.

Grevis speaks knowledgeably and diplomatically on how to resolve workplace conflict, manage people risk and build a positive culture at work based on his extensive experience as a lawyer and workplace investigator. Grevis delivers a comprehensive range of in-house training programs designed to help organisations resolve workplace  complaints and create a positive culture at work. 

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