5 Ways to Broach Touchy Subjects in a Remote Environment

5 Ways to Broach Touchy Subjects in a Remote Environment

Asking for a raise. Giving negative feedback. Revealing a personal problem. Explaining why a deadline won’t be met. All of these sensitive topics (and plenty more) routinely come up at work—and while confronting touchy subjects is no picnic in a regular office setting, the awkwardness can feel magnified when handled in a remote environment.

Forethought about the challenges, however, can lead to a thoughtful, productive conversation.

Consider these five keys to broaching touchy subjects in a remote environment: 

1. Avoid letting situations fester.

While it’s always good to nip small problems in the bud, responsiveness has added importance in remote relationships. When issues that should be addressed remain dormant, people make guesses and build up stories about the other person’s motives.

“In a sense we are starved of actual facts, so we make do with what we have, and elaborate stories that fill in the blanks,” says David Maxfield, co-author of Crucial Accountability and vice president of research at VitalSmarts. “Usually, these stories are negative. They imagine the worst, and take on lives of their own.”

2. Provide advanced notice.

Let the other person know you’d like to carve out time to talk. This courtesy prevents catching someone you can’t see off-guard or in the middle of other obligations. Briefly provide the nature of the discussion so that the other party can prepare and get into the appropriate mindset.

3. Carefully select a medium.

Experts generally recommend visual communication whenever possible because of the difficulty in “reading” another person when you only have words to go by. Phone calls don’t allow seeing how the other person is reacting to what you’re saying.

As Maxfield notes, “We can’t guess what they are thinking and feeling, so we can’t adjust what we are saying as we would if we were together. Instead, we carry our argument too far, and for too long. We speak into the dead air, instead of letting the other person respond.”

His general rule of thumb: the bigger the concern, the broader the bandwidth.

“If it’s a really big concern, get on the plane and go visit. If it’s moderate, use a webinar or other visual technology. Save the phone for the little things.” 

4. Compensate for lack of cues.

When tackling sensitive issues via phone, be aware of the potential pitfalls. Smart adjustments to ease some of the awkwardness and establish a good flow include:

  • Avoiding monologues
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Pausing to let the other person speak
  • Directly requesting perspectives, opinions, and ideas

5. Be respectful.

Lastly, never let distance be an excuse for bad behavior. It may be tempting to be more domineering and less polite when not in the same room. Realize, though, that you’re dealing with an actual person who will judge and react to what you say and do. Remote or in-office, maintaining professionalism is critical for fruitful conversations and solid long-term relationships.

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Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com 


By Beth Braccio Hering | October 4, 2017 | Categories: Remote Management


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