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  • February 17, 2021

The Art of the Hard Conversation

The Art of the Hard Conversation

The Art of the Hard Conversation 311 174 HR Studio

As business owners, many of us entrust the day to day running of our operations to senior managers. While these individuals no doubt have the right experience and business know-how for the operational  job aspects at hand – are they equipped to handle the real people issues in a time where empathy in the workplace has never been as critical? 

As we ride out the mental wellness wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that your senior managers are equipped for hard conversations and able to support your workforce is critical.

Our employees and teams are taking strain. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) two-thirds of South Africans said their mental health worsened during lockdown, and some experienced suicidal thoughts. Of course some of these feelings will infiltrate the workplace and impact employee performance as we continue to navigate varying forms of lockdown and uncertainty.

As a business owner you can help equip your senior team members to handle tough conversations. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a fertile ground for the reimagining of employee engagement and workplace support and now is as good a time as ever to have these conversations.

Here are some starter tips

Manager- up

No one likes conflict and sometimes managers will try to avoid difficult conversations opting to rather tiptoe around issues or offer subtle suggestions on how an employee can improve. If that sounds familiar, then it is time to ‘manager-up.’ There has never been more of a need for managers to be hands on and  deal with conflict head on. People are more vulnerable now than ever before and want firm support and direction. Don’t let issues, performance based or personal, run rampant and become bigger than they need to be.

Put down your weapons

Prior to Covid-19, many of us may have opted for a ‘go in guns blazing’ approach demanding an improvement in behaviour – particularly with repeat offenders. But right now empathy and understanding in the boardroom are key. Not only because you run the risk of being labelled insensitive in the middle of a global pandemic but because on some level we can all truly empathise with the reality we are facing. Of course this does not mean that you must not take the necessary action to remedy the issue – but perhaps listen first to understand the trigger causing the poor performance before deciding on next steps.

Lead from the top

Right now feeling anxious or scared is normal. Encourage your senior people to ‘normalise’ employees’ grief and fear. Create a flat discussion from the top about how people are feeling, what has been lost and what concerns them going forward. Are they concerned about their safety in the workplace or job security in general? This type of conversation could also shed some much needed light on how your people are feeling – offering you an opportunity to mitigate additional risk.

Employee Assistance Programme

Sometimes employees do not feel comfortable speaking to their managers directly – and that is ok. As business leaders, ensuring your company offers an Employee Assistance Programme can go a long way in instilling confidence in your team that you care and want to help.

An EAP will give your employees 24/7 confidential access to help and advice whenever they feel they need it most and assures that employees will get access to trained professionals who will be best placed to support them with any mental health issues.


Everyone’s time is precious and it feels like there are never enough hours in the day. With that said, carving out time for a one on one catch ups with employees who are vulnerable or taking a lot of strain may go a long way in terms of them feeling supported and safe.

This is a scary time to be human, let alone a business owner, a manager or an employee but we are in it together. Create a space for people to talk and implement the necessary support for those who need it. It will go a long way to keep employees feeling supported and more productive.