Difficult conversations and self-development in the new lockdown

Monday 09 November 2020
Many people – and managers – will find their working and professional circumstances altered. Here’s how to turn obstacles into opportunities
Silhouettes of two people having a conversation

The effects of the covid-19 crisis are uncertain but significant. Many people and managers will find their professional circumstances altered further in coming months. As the pandemic continues and countries find themselves in lockdowns and circuit-breakers at different points, many honest and sometimes difficult conversations will need to take place. Jobs are at risk, the future is uncertain and people’s wellbeing is being affected.

Thelma Ford-Escobar and Renée Raper, Chartered Fellows from North East Yorkshire and Humberside and Scotland regions respectively, discussed how to undertake these difficult conversations and how to turn setbacks into opportunities during a recent CMI webinar.

Work and society have certainly been disrupted in a major way, says Ford-Escobar, and could remain that way for some time. Organisations are furloughing and redeploying staff, Others are possibly restructuring departments or entire organisations. All of these come hand-in-hand with difficult conversations – which become trickier when they’re being held remotely. “You don't know the right time or how team members are feeling. Are they feeling stress? What are the circumstances like at home? Picking that right time to say we can have this conversation now is a little bit harder,” Ford-Escobar says.

Environment is critical

This is not easy with employees working remotely. Ford-Escobar recommends taking a person-by-person approach, being aware of each individual’s personal circumstances and giving them the time and space to be able to process the situation. There are a wide range of stressors that will be impacting your people, and you need to be aware of them.

Understand your own emotions

We all need to be aware of our own emotions at all times, Ford-Escobar explains. Only by checking in with yourself emotionally can you make sure you’re entering the difficult conversation from the most appropriate place.  We must look after ourselves and our team members if we’re going to be effective when having these difficult discussions: “Leaders need to exhibit a wide repertoire of behaviours and qualities. In times of crisis, it's essential,” she says.

Build trust

Trust between managers and their team members is essential in these difficult situations, says Ford-Escobar: “There's a lot of insecurity and uncertainty. people are apprehensive about the whole environment, and hence the demand for that trust.”

If we lose that trust, working relationships can become fraught, which can have a hugely negative impact on the mental health of our team. During lockdown and beyond, working relationships are the core of remaining productive and feeling connected - if you lose that, your people will suffer.

Practice situational and adaptive leadership

Good leaders need to be able to adapt their skills and management styles to different situations as they present themselves. “It’s knowing when to be supportive, and when to be directive,” says Ford-Escobar.

Adaptive leadership is based on three factors: technical challenges, adaptive challenges and leadership behaviours. This is used to develop an adaptive working environment between a leader and their followers. “I normally like to use these models, really, in terms of measuring my own leadership skills and assessing myself,” Ford-Escobar explains.

Finding opportunities in a crisis

Raper poses four questions to managers from her experience as a consultant: Is it business as usual? Is it people as usual – i.e. are staff working the same way? Is it leadership as usual? And finally, what should we be doing? “It automatically takes you to a gap analysis. So you're looking at Well, what did we do beforehand? What are we doing now? And where should we be in the future? What are the things that we're going to need?” She says.

This gives you an opportunity to check in with your team and help them feel involved in the future-planning process. This can make them feel more secure in their job, more autonomous, and cared for. It also gives you a chance to hear their experiences and learn from them.

Behavioural skills are in demand

People are looking more at behavioural skills, values-based skills, says Raper: “It's moving from the transactional side, towards an authentic type of leadership. Emotional intelligence is very much out there as well...We ought to be developing leadership in ourselves as well, whatever level we are within an organisation.”

Learning and development is crucial

We should all take responsibility for developing our skills during this crisis, says Raper. All managers should be constantly learning and updating their skills. “As we talk about more ethical leadership, servant leadership and emotional intelligence, they're all things that we ought to be looking at and exploring,” she explains. “So there's always room for developing ourselves.”

You can watch this webinar in full here. Why not check out our upcoming webinars here?

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