4 Steps to Managing Tough Conversations During COVID-19

Article main image
May 27, 2020

Do your stakeholders and team members have the communication skills necessary to succeed in this unprecedented time? Do they know how to artfully and effectively address issues as they arise?

The pandemic is leading to tough conversations that many people aren’t equipped to have. How do I lay someone off? How do I tell my team there’s a pay cut coming? How can I ask my team to perform better with all the distractions of working from home? People naturally shy away from these conversations because they don’t know how to bring them up, feel uncomfortable, or they worry dialogue will escalate into an argument. However, this can make the situation worse.

Avoiding tough conversations is extremely costly. It can lower morale and productivity, increase stress and conflict, and lead to missed opportunities. Having these conversations, on the other hand, often produces the results you’re seeking and can be a catalyst for better relationships. Fortunately, by following four simple communication steps, the chances of a positive outcome are greatly increased.

By sharing the CARE model with your staff, you can prepare them to capitalize on the opportunity inherent in every tough conversation. This way, team members can handle new and inevitable challenges as they arrive. At Tough Conversations International (TCI), we’ve used this blueprint for navigating interpersonal conflict with a variety of clients from HR directors at small companies to executives at Fortune 500 companies. CARE is an acronym and it stands for:

  • Clarify the issue for yourself. What do you hope might happen? What are you afraid might happen? Will you risk those consequences? What’s a request you could make? 
  • Ask permission: Before you jump into a conversation, ask if they are willing to talk about it and if now is a good time. You’ll get a much better result than if you just launch into the topic. You can also ask in a way that sets context for the conversation and lets the other person know your intentions are positive. 
  • Reveal & Request: Reveal the issue and how you’re feeling about it using ownership language such as “When you did X, I felt Y. I’d like to see Z happen.” Make a request that would move you both in a positive direction.
  • Enquire: Curiosity is your friend here; this is a tough conversation, not a tough monologue. Make it your mission to understand your counterpart’s point of view, feelings, and ideas. You might learn something important. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, they have a better idea than yours, or they have an unspoken concern that’s affecting their behavior. For example: “I’d love to hear how this lands for you and any ideas you have about this. Maybe you have a better idea than mine.”

When you follow these four steps, you increase the likelihood of having an effective conversation. Support your team members in leveraging these four steps, and your company can reap some very tangible rewards: greater workplace satisfaction, higher employee retention, improved teamwork, and more. The Tough Conversations CARE model will not only help your team’s productivity during this time but can help you build more trust and partnership with your colleagues.