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Navigating difficult conversations in HR Management

Contractor Management
CXC Global7 min read
CXC GlobalMay 07, 2024
CXC Global

The role of HR in global workforces

In today’s ever-evolving work environment, multinational HR teams are facing a growing array of challenges and complexities.

From devising return-to-office strategies to deciding on remote and hybrid work setups, there has been a significant transformation in how businesses operate and manage their workforce.

While this shift brings numerous advantages like a diverse workforce, global expansion, and access to varied talent pools, it also presents a myriad of HR issues and hurdles that are constantly evolving.

Modern organisations are required to adhere to local laws, nurture unified company cultures across borders, and meet the changing expectations of their workforce.

All this is happening amidst global challenges such as rising inflation, economic downturns, and geopolitical tensions.

It’s safe to say that in a multinational corporate environment, HR teams are facing a substantial – and complex – workload.

The importance of effective communication

In the context of increasingly complex and multi-faceted roles, HR business leaders are engaging the powerful strategies of a robust and consistent communications plan.

In a multinational organisation, a global communication plan allows HR leaders to determine what needs to be said to people across the organisation, when, and via what means, all suited to the recipient’s role, location and information needs.

An HR communication plan also allows HR leaders to be consistent and coordinated with communications. From performance management to conflict resolution and supporting a positive working environment, communications in HR is more important than ever.

Hosting regular one-on-one meetings and providing frequent feedback about global HR and business issues also allows HR professionals to support a cohesive company culture across all sites.

Understanding the challenges of difficult conversations

As a business leader or HR professional, difficult conversations are part of everyday life: they’re unavoidable. That’s why preparation, education, and insight into managing the personal feelings of the worker in the conversation, as well as the subject of the conversation, is paramount.

Some examples of difficult conversations in the workplace include:

  • Poor performance or behavioural issues of a worker.
  • Complaints and grievances received about a worker.
  • Delivering bad news, such as the termination of employment or ending an employment contract.
  • Communication in the case of broad-based layoffs.
  • Addressing and managing conflict in the business.
  • Salary and compensation negotiations.
  • Communicating tough business decisions such as departmental shutdowns, facilities closing, management reshuffle.

Unique challenges in a global workforce

Difficult conversations in a global workforce setting can be compounded by cultural complexity and misunderstandings. In a global workforce context, there are three main considerations your business needs to make, when having difficult conversations.

Cultural sensitivities: when cultural differences are apparent in a global workforce setting, difficult conversations can be misinterpreted, misunderstood or even disregarded. Perception may be skewed by the recipient, with the outcome of your conversation therefore unrealised. It’s a difficult scenario.  The best way to manage these conversations is to:

  • Be prepared. Take the time to learn about the culture you’re interacting with.
  • Use inclusive language and avoid terms or vernacular that could be construed as offensive or upsetting to the culture of the recipient.
  • Exercise active listening by paying attention to the recipient’s words, gestures, tone and body language.

Legal and ethical considerations: there will be legal and ethical considerations for both your company and its home jurisdiction, and the same for your global workers, based offshore. Broadly the legal key considerations you’ll need to make include:

  • Equal opportunity rules: prohibiting discrimination against factors such as race, religions, gender, colour, age, nationality, or disability.
  • Fair work rules: where global operations are required to be compliant with issues including the minimum wage, overtime, record-keeping, child labour laws, and other labour standards.
  • Leave entitlements: including holiday, parental, carer’s leave, sick and medical leave.
  • Occupational health and safety: standards for all workplaces providing for a safe and healthy work environment.

In addition, the key cultural considerations you’ll need to make include:

  • Diversity and inclusion: as HR leaders, it’s important to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace and nurture a culture that appreciates diversity and upholds the rights of all employees.
  • Ethical leadership: demonstrating ethical leadership standards in the workplace and setting a behavioural model for the rest of the workforce will in turn, establish a high-level of expectations around ethical standards and behaviours, by all workers.
  • Whistleblowing: creating a culture that encourages employees to report ethical violations without fear of reprisal.

Importantly, as an HR business leader, it’s your responsibility to navigate the complex legal systems of all the locations in which your organisation has operations, to check for legislative changes and to have culturally aware people on the ground in these offshore locations.

Language barriers and non-verbal communication: non-verbal communication, including body language, physical gestures, and eye contact, can differ between cultures, and if difficult conversations are happening over an online meeting. It’s essential to recognise these variations and adjust your non-verbal cues accordingly. For instance, direct eye contact may be seen as disrespectful in some cultures, while in others, it is crucial for effective communication. In addition, where the possibility of language barriers exist refrain from using jargon, colloquialisms or slang. Be simplistic in your language, repeat key points, and summarise the discussion for ease of understanding.

Strategies for managing difficult conversations

Preparation and planning

In a business with a global workforce, managing difficult conversations requires plenty of preparation and planning. This includes:

  • Having an awareness of the cultural backgrounds of your workers. Research their backgrounds and prepare for difficult conversations accordingly. This will make the conversation far more fluid and fruitful for all parties.
  • As mentioned above, be informed about the legal rules and regulations in the jurisdictions of your workers’. Do this before having difficult conversations, so you’re going into the conversation fully prepared and informed.

Effective communication techniques

In a global setting, difficult conversations with your workers, calls for the use of effective communication tools. These will ensure you both understand each other so you can conclude the conversation, having reached mutual agreement. The key tools we recommend include:

  • Active listening and empathy: this involves paying close attention to what your worker is saying, while being mindful of their body language, tone, and choice of verbal language. Paraphrasing and summarising their words and main points will ensure you’re demonstrating understanding of their perspective and empathising with their situation.
  • Ask open-ended questions: these invite your workers to share their perspective, feelings, experiences and needs more deeply. They’re also a valuable tactic to activate and demonstrate empathy.
  • Clear, concise and respectful language: this means being simplistic in your approach, especially where different languages or cultures may be at play. Having taken the time to boost your cultural sensitivities knowledge, you’ll be aware of what is respectful, engaging and pertinent to the individual, and to the conversation.
  • Be consistent: in all difficult conversations, it may be easy to have bias towards workers in your own language or culture. This isn’t acceptable. Hold all workers to the same behavioural and performance standards, no matter where they’re based.
  • Welcome and provide feedback: take stock of the worker’s experience in the scenario and focus on providing feedback to them that is relevant to the behaviour or situation, without getting personal.
  • Create a measurable action plan: the hallmark of an effective difficult conversation is how well you’ve been able to translate that into an agreed resolution. Document the details of the discussion and agreed-upon follow-up actions and double-check this with the worker so you’re both in agreement of the outcome. Work together to write a follow-up action plan, including deliverables and timeframes. Make sure each stage of the action plan is specific, measurable and time-sensitive – so the worker knows your expectations and knows they’re accountable.
  • Offer further resources and support: depending on the nature of the conversation, it may be wise to provide the worker with additional support. This may be from their direct manager, a colleague or a business mentor. Alternatively, you may consider providing the worker with career counselling or development guidance.

Leveraging technology and training in global HR

Tools for effective global communication

HR technology can be a valuable lever in the management and follow-up of difficult conversations. Especially when you have a dispersed workforce, across the globe.

HR software helps by creating a summary document of the discussion, encompassing goals, feedback, expectations, and next steps. This tool also enables sharing the document with the worker as well as relevant individuals like managers, mentors, or coaches. And it aids in monitoring progress, scheduling follow-ups, and tracking action item outcomes.

Utilising HR software can simplify and enhance challenging conversations with workers. It facilitates pre-planning, effective communication, documentation, and post-meeting follow-ups. Additionally, it promotes consistency, fairness, and strengthens relationships and trust between employers and employees; trust that can be otherwise hard to foster with a worker in a different country.

Training for HR professionals

For HR professionals managing a global workforce, we recommend the business creates a training hub for their HR practitioners. This hub will ideally offer training in relation to:

  • sustaining cultural competencies of HR business leaders, relative to workforce spread and locations.
  • keeping HR aware of workplace legalities across the organisation’s global footprint, and
  • offering ongoing communications training for HR professionals, responsible for overseeing a global workforce.

For your HR teams to be adept at difficult conversations, providing ongoing support and training for them is vital.

Building a supportive global workforce

For your organisation to build and sustain a high-functioning, productive global workforce, HR need to be empowered to foster the right work environment: one that is positive, transparent in its communications, and collaborative across the board.

Well-managed difficult conversations don’t just happen. HR needs to have the right skills, insights, cultural awareness, training and interpersonal know-how to ensure optimum outcomes are achieved for all parties. Only then, will your business enjoy positive employee morale, and a supportive, inclusive global workforce.

In the complex landscape of global business, navigating difficult conversations requires a nuanced approach. Partner with us at CXC, where our expertise in global HR management ensures your workforce is supported through every challenge. Contact us to learn how we can help you manage your global team effectively.


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