How to Have a Hard Conversation When You’re Remote
Hopefully you have a job (remote or not!) that you enjoy most of the time, find fulfillment in, and interact with engaging and supportive colleagues. But even the most satisfied professionals have bad days and are faced with difficult situations.
But what happens when a bad day or difficult situation goes beyond a one time occurrence? Maybe a colleague continually undercuts your ideas or intentionally leaves you out of conversations, your management team is not providing the support and runway you need to grow, or perhaps a direct report is challenging you in inappropriate ways.
While it can be intimidating, when a problem arises in the working world you must face it head on. But factor in the distance of working remotely or from a different office and it can be even more difficult.
So how do you handle this? Here are 6 tips to have a difficult conversation when you’re not in the office.
1. Have a live conversation
Intonation and inflection matter so avoid email or IM. Give the person and the situation the courtesy it deserves and have a conversation. One challenge of not being in the office is not being able to simply pop by someone’s desk or office. If you need to connect with someone who has a challenging schedule send a short email indicating you’d like to discuss a specific topic, succinctly say what that topic is, and grab time on that person’s calendar.
2. Come prepared
Clear, concise thoughts are much more powerful than spouting out grievances. Spend time detailing what the situation and problem at hand is; have short examples that you can cite if pressed. Then spend time thinking about what you believe the remedy should be. Especially if you’re going to an executive with an issue one of the first questions she is likely to you is how it can be fixed. You don’t have to have the full solution but you don’t want to fumble over your words here.
3. Remember your EQ
Along with being prepared for the conversation, your thoughts on how something can improve, and setting up the best environment possible for the discussion, don’t forget to bring your EQ or emotional intelligence. EQ is most certainly one of the professional buzzwords of the day but it’s for good reason: it matters. There are loads of different definitions out there, but one way I like to think about it particularly in terms of a difficult conversation is being a full person. When you have to face conflict, especially if there’s an added barrier like different offices or a remote worker, keep in mind that we’re all people. This person who has been seemingly actively keeping you out of a project might have some very real fears about his job security, heightened by the new baby he just had. You certainly don’t want to look past issues, but it’s important to aim to see the full picture, especially when you’re not experiencing the “full picture” of the office each day.
4. Get clear on your expectations
Before any big conversation (work meeting, personal chat, you name it!) you should have an idea of what you’re looking for as a result. You can’t control what the answer or other person’s point of view will be, but you can have an idea of what you will discuss and come to resolution on. Additionally you can have an idea of what you would like in your ideal situation. It’s important to have an understanding and idea of this going into a challenging conversation, especially one you’re driving.
5. Ask for feedback
You’re not perfect. Having a difficult situation to should remind you of the fact that no one is perfect. Talking about something unideal is a great time to learn more about how you can grow and improve as a professional. Plus asking for feedback will demonstrate to your counterpart that you’re
6. If it’s a really sensitive matter and you can, travel.
Some things–when possible–are best done in person. If you’re dealing with a highly sensitive subject, or need to involve upper management, or simply need to be able to look someone in the eye during a conversation do it in person if you can. Trust your gut and if you feel it’s necessary–and it’s possible with your work setup–make the trip.
How have you handled a difficult situation when not being in the office?