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Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

There’s no doubt that having tough conversations – like negotiating a raise, firing someone or giving your notice – has always been hard.

HR and people management expert Amanda Hudson says remote or hybrid work can add complexity to the already challenging conversations.

“I think if anything, the increase of remote work has made people feel like they can avoid having difficult conversations for longer, or simply use a messaging tool to share their concern with people versus having the conversation live,” she says.

While it may be tempting to leave uncomfortable topics for an e-mail or text message, Ms. Hudson says it should almost never be done.

Other factors can also impact your ability to have these conversations. If you’re working from home there may be extra distractions from family members. Or, you might be wondering what the best etiquette is; should you have your camera on or off? How long of a silence is appropriate given Zoom can sometimes lag?

Ms. Hudson says people typically avoid tough conversations because they don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.

“Usually, if we’re in a position to have a difficult conversation with someone, there’s a breakdown of trust in the relationship and we’re projecting what the conversation will be like and assuming the worst,” she says.

Regardless, these conversations are essential, and Ms. Hudson says there are consequences for avoiding them, even if you think the issue will resolve itself – which it typically doesn’t.

She says over time, the conversation just gets harder to have.

“As more time passes, additional factors come into play and are piled on, which causes a further breakdown to the relationship – making the conversation increasingly difficult and complex,” she says.

The good news is there are a few key things you can do to prepare for a tough conversation, whether you’re a manager or not.

  1. Be clear on your purpose. “Identify why you are embarking on this difficult conversation in the first place. With one sentence, can you describe what you want from the other person?” Ms. Hudson asks. Once you’re clear on your purpose, you can start to let go of the assumptions you’ve made.
  2. Keep an open mind. Once you’ve stated the purpose of your conversation, “really listen,” she says. “Ask open-ended questions like ‘what would you like to see happen?’ or ‘tell me more about …’ and listen some more.”

Ultimately, if you have a difficult conversation coming up, Ms. Hudson says it’s a good time for reflection.

Especially if you’re a manager, she says to first take responsibility for the situation you’ve found yourself in.

“Ask yourself how you contributed to this negative situation and you’ll likely find something you can change before you even need to speak to someone else,” she says.

“When people have a high level of trust with others, conversations don’t need to be hard. Focus on building trust with the people around you and you’ll greatly reduce the number of difficult conversations you need to have.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • Only 40 per cent of workers report being happy while on the job. Watch this TED Talk for insight into what actually makes employees happy, and how companies can reap the benefits of creating a culture where people feel satisfied.
  • Data is one of the key levers you use to strengthen the relationship between your company and your customers. From better understanding their wants and needs to giving them peace of mind, here are a few ways to make the best use of the data you have.
  • One man’s desperate mission to save our soil has started a movement. So far, he has secured pledges from 74 countries to preserve their soil through sustainable farming, with the end goal of encouraging national governments to mandate a minimum of 3-6 per cent organic content in their agricultural soils.
  • Experts say more businesses are opting into tipping, which means you may start being prompted for a tip at places like private liquor stores. This move would allow employees to make more cash, while companies can avoid raising their wages.

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