There may be tears... Tips for handling difficult conversations

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is huge and far-reaching. As expected, many businesses are now having to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford to keep their staff on or need to make structural changes. Difficult decisions invariably lead to difficult conversations… but there are things you can do to minimise the pain and emotion that comes with them.

Even if your business doesn’t need to make redundancies, staff returning to work from furlough and efforts to maintain social distancing in the workplace have become new sources of stress and conflict.

Lead HR Consultant, Diane Johnson, provides some practical pointers to help employers to prepare for and mitigate conflict and emotion.

Tip 1. Plan, plan, plan…

If you have a very well-thought-out plan, that clearly outlines WHAT you are doing with a detailed day-by-day schedule, you will notice a profound change in your own level of confidence as you manage the redundancy process or challenging situation.

Tip 2. Ask yourself ‘why?’

Although it may sound obvious, you need to understand WHY you are making redundancies or are restructuring the business. I recommend that you clearly articulate the reasoning in a business case and/or script. Having your rationale ready to use in verbal and written communications will ensure you stay consistent if employees become emotional about these proposed changes.

Tip 3. Reduce the ‘threat’ of change

It is well documented that humans generally have an aversion to change. Situations where we feel something is happening that threatens us can trigger a raft of unhelpful emotions.

David Rock’s SCARF principle suggests there are five specific circumstances that can cause us to experience a feeling of ‘threat’:

  • When our Status is undermined
  • When we don’t feel there is any Certainty, now or in the future
  • When we have little or no Autonomy over what is happening
  • When we feel what is happening makes us disconnected to others and alone (Relatedness)
  • When what is happening doesn’t feel Fair.

To counter these feelings of potential threat, it is essential to conduct a full consultation process whereby employees feel that:

  • They are communicated with
  • They are involved in the process
  • They have a voice
  • What is happening is both fair and transparent.

Tip 4. Brush up on your techniques

As in most areas of business, preparation is key. Before you approach a sensitive situation, prepare a ‘bank’ of questions/techniques that will help you to navigate through different emotions.

We all know that people react to difficult news in different ways; typical unhelpful reactions will be anger, sadness or despair. Below are just some of the techniques you might use to handle these emotions.

Dispel anger by asking

And what else is angering you?

What might help you to feel less angry right now?

Help employees over tears/sadness by

Staying silent – this will give the employee the space and time they need to let it out

Asking if you can get them anything, or if they would like to take a short break

Asking if there is anything you can do right now that would help them feel less sad

Rebuilding despairing employees by asking

What help and resources are available to you right now?

What could we do to help you right now?

What three things will help you feel less despondent?

Tip 5. Call for back up

Remember, you are human too and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder this alone. Identify someone to be your coach or mentor throughout the process.

This could be a professional HR person or someone you know who has managed a redundancy process themselves. It can be a complicated, time-consuming and emotional time for you, so having someone to support you throughout the process will help enormously.

The Transform HR team have helped a number of clients to manage redundancies and other sensitive situations over recent months. Please contact us online or call Diane Johnson on 07720 353450 to discuss accessing HR and Coaching support from us.

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