Difficult conversations

How to manage difficult conversations remotely

How to manage difficult conversations remotely

An important part of people management is knowing how to effectively approach and hold difficult conversations with your employees. Difficult conversations can come about for a number of reasons. They could be in relation to mental health, performance, redundancies/restructuring etc. Employers should not shy away from these types of conversations. Facing them head on will help to keep working relationships intact.


Difficult conversations can carry a high risk if they are managed poorly. Emotions can run high and there could be risk of discrimination in some cases if protected characteristics are concerned. In some cases, a poorly managed conversation could result in an employment tribunal claim. To avoid this employers should follow a fair procedure by sticking to facts and use company policy as reference where possible. It is also recommended to take notes when having conversations as these may be needed for future reference.

Working remotely

It is easy to forget but employers are still responsible for their employees’ wellbeing whilst they are working from home. So you must address difficult conversations even when working remotely. This is likely to be something you have never done before and it may be daunting. Employers may find it easier to avoid these conversations, but the problem will only escalate to a point where it is difficult to control. You should make the effort to look approachable to your employees. Send emails to check in or schedule one-to-ones to provide your employees with an opportunity to bring forward any issues. This is especially important to do whilst working from home, as they may have little direct contact with you otherwise.

Mental Health

Many people have suffered with poor mental health as a result of the pandemic. This can change behaviour and impact performance of employees when they are at work. Whilst it may be frustrating to see a performance dip, it is important to show compassion towards this. There is likely to be an increase of these types of difficult conversations at the moment as more people are experiencing poor mental health. Remember that employers have a legal duty to ensure the mental wellbeing of their workforce. And so they should make sure they are holding conversations with their staff regularly and be understanding when they do so.

Tips for Managing Difficult Conversations


You should make sure you prepare for the conversation, particularly if the subject is sensitive or has the potential to become confrontational. Schedule a time where you are both free to have this conversation. This allows both yourself and your employee enough time to discuss the issues and get both of your points across. You run the risk of suggesting that you’re uninterested in the problem that the employee has brought forward if you do not schedule an appropriate time and the conversation has to be cut short.


Many of you may not be able to have these conversations face to face due to remote working. If this is the case it is better to have a video call rather than a phone call. It helps to break down the barriers and improves human connection. Both parties will feel confident that the other has their full attention on the conversation. You could experience connectivity issues and find it difficult to understand one other. If this happens use a phone call for clearer audio but remain on the video call so you are able to see each other.


It may be worth completing training to ensure that you are confident going into difficult conversations without hesitation. There are free and paid courses available online to better your skills. This will enable you to enter into conversations without having the fear that you will make things worse. In addition, you will have the knowledge to suggest necessary action to take moving forwards.


Listen to what your staff have to say. Conversations will be made more difficult if employees feel like they are not being listened to. Prepare for the conversation by having some open ended questions to ask them. This shows that you value their input and are seeking the fairest resolution. It is important to create a space where your employees feel comfortable and not judged. The conversations are likely to be around sensitive issues and so require caution and understanding.

Keep Communication Flowing

Employers should ensure that communication is maintained with your staff, especially when working remotely. Miscommunication, and therefore further issues can be avoided if you keep in regular contact with your staff. We understand as a manager you may be busy but it is important to make time to speak to your team. Schedule some time in your diary for catch up calls. If this isn’t possible, you should ensure that your diary doesn’t say ‘busy’ all day. This will put your staff off communicating with you as they think you’re ‘too busy’ or unavailable. This allows issues and worries to build up.


At HPC we can offer advice for when you are having difficult conversations with your employees. We can advise you on the best approach and what course of action to take. Our help will ensure that you do not face any employment tribunal claims.


If you have any concerns or would like to discuss how to manage difficult conversations further, please get in contact with the HPC team today.


T: 0844 800 5932

E: contact@highperformanceconsultancy.com

Twitter: @HPC_HRServices

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