February 23, 2021

Difficult Communications During COVID-19

Having difficult conversations about work performance, attendance, and inappropriate behavior is often a challenging task, but with a large number of employees working remotely, it can be even more difficult. The steps outlined below may help you to better prepare for a difficult conversation with employees.

  • Gather Facts and Determine a Strategy – It’s important to gather your facts in order to provide a clear message. Often times, employees may not realize their performance or behavior is an issue, so be prepared to provide them with specific examples and how it impacts the department, company goals, sales, etc. If you would normally engage a witness when meeting with the person face-to-face, you should do the same for a virtual meeting. In these cases, it’s a good idea to let the employee know that someone else will be attending the meeting. Also, try to consider other factors that may affect where and when the meeting should take place: Are you in the same time zone? Does the employee normally work in a private location in their home? Or are there family members that may overhear the conversation?

  • Be Aware of Technical Limitations – Other than the basic glitches like an unstable internet connection or lagging audio, be aware of your body language. Sit up straight and maintain eye contact through the meeting. Positioning the video feed as close to your camera as possible will give the appearance that you are making direct eye contact with the individual. Be attentive and don’t try to multi-task by checking your text messages or emails. It may even be a good idea to shut off your phone and email, so you’re not distracted by the pinging as new messages arrive. 

  • Listen and Encourage Two Way Communication – Allow enough time for the employee to ask questions and discuss corrective action. Make sure they know that you are available after the meeting as well if they have additional questions. Also make sure that you follow up on a regular basis to provide feedback and updates on their progress. 

Remember, keeping the lines of communication open with your employees from the start may keep you better informed and aware of facts that you may not be privy to otherwise. According to SHRM’s Culture Report, 4 in 10 employees indicate that their manager fails to frequently engage in honest conversations about work topics. Encouraging a culture of open and transparent communication can help managers see the whole picture. For example, a manager who would normally label an employee “lazy” because they consistently show up late for staff meetings may not make that same judgment if they are aware that the employee has been helping their child who is struggling with a challenging online class that occurs prior to the staff meeting.  

In addition to struggling with communication through video conferencing, there is also a very real barrier trying to communicate effectively when wearing a mask and socially distancing. The tips below may help to alleviate some of those issues:

  • Move to a quiet place, if possible, to hold a conversation.
  • Make sure you have the individual’s attention and face them when speaking.  
  • Speak a little louder and slower than usual.
  • Use your hands or body language to help get your message across, or use non-verbal cues like a thumb’s up to let someone know you understand.
  • If necessary, communicate in another way by writing your message on a white board or scheduling a Zoom call.

HR/Advantage Advisory professionals are ready to work with you. Give us a call today!

Sources: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “Communicating Effectively While Wearing a Mask and Socially Distancing” SHRM, “Difficult Conversations: More Difficult Than Ever” GoCo, “5 Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations on Zoom (Or Any Video Call)”

The views and opinions expressed in the article represent the view of the author and not necessarily the official view of Clark Hill PLC. Nothing in this article constitutes professional legal advice nor is intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice.
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