please share:
High stakes conversations over virtual platforms, leading in a virtual world

Susan Steinbrecher gives leaders great techniques for navigating constructive feedback over virtual platforms.


Meaningful Alignment refers to any conversation involving two or more people where alignment and deep understanding are vital to a successful outcome. More specifically, we are referring to the high-stakes interactions we have at times where emotions run high, and viewpoints are often not aligned. These types of conversations are challenging in the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic and a remote working environment and the word challenging becomes an understatement.  But why? 

It is natural for humans to focus on the negative.  It’s in our DNA.  When you add in the chronic stress created by something like a Covid-19, there is an increase of negativity bias. Team members are more prone to hear what you say and take it in a negative light or focus on the negative part of your message. 

When you are giving constructive feedback in person, it is easier to adjust your communication style to the seriousness of the message and to the non-verbal cues you are receiving.  In-person, you have the opportunity to set the stage. You decide where to deliver this message – like in a conference room or in a private office. These options are off the table in a virtual world.  It is increasingly difficult to read non-verbal cues across the screen. 

By our basic nature, most people have difficulty handling emotionally charged conversations. Our capacity to manage emotions, resolve conflict, and create meaningful alignment with others is not innate — it must be learned. Few people have been trained to focus on emotional management skills, however, a lack of these coping abilities can lead to damaged relationships and career setbacks. 

Here are 5  techniques to overcome these challenges and keep you and your team aligned and on-track. 

ASK QUESTIONS:  Start out by getting the other person’s perspective on how they thought the project or meeting went.  This will give you insight into their experience and perspective. They may recognize once they express their thoughts out loud, what they need to improve on making it easier to address. 

SAY THANKS BEFORE CRITIQUING: Research shows that recipients receive constructive feedback better when they are told specifically what they did well and before they are told what they could improve on. This isn’t news here, but still a good reminder. 

SHARE YOUR MOTIVATIONS: Make sure the other person realizes why you are giving them this feedback – to help them and your team move forward. You are interested in their growth.  Sharing this information will go a long way regarding how they will receive your message. 

CLARIFY AND CONTRAST:  Using contrasting statements creates clarity when giving feedback. For example,” What I am saying is that I’m concerned with all that is on your plate. What I am NOT saying is that you lack the skills or ability to do the job. Framing the communication this way prevents any negative spins or doubts that the other person might entertain. 

RECAP:  At the end of your conversation, ask the other person to give you what their takeaways are. This will give you insight on how that person is receiving the information – with negativity bias or not. If they are looking at the information in a negative light, then you have the opportunity to course-correct and invite them to reexamine or reconsider the message that you sent.

How well do you handle emotionally charged, high-stakes conversations? Take the Interpersonal Dialogue Profile™ assessment and find out! 



I hope this information is helpful for you! We have spent many years studying the world of conflict and helping people master not only meaningful alignment conversations but specifically applying these skills in a virtual environment. We would like to help you too! Feel free to reach out.  We would love to hear your stories. 

Feel free to reach out with a question!

please share: