How to manage difficult conversations

Difficult conversations in the workplace can cover a wide range of topics, like tackling behaviour issues, poor performance, feedback, restructuring and redundancy and many more.


Whatever the subject matter, the following tips should help you handle even the most difficult conversations with ease.

Top tips for difficult conversations


Think about the outcome you want to achieve and practice the conversation beforehand which will help with your emotional control.

Where and when

Choose a quiet place, where you won’t be disturbed, and others won’t overhear you. Think of when an appropriate time is to have the conversation and when the person is more likely to be receptive.

Manage your own emotions

Be considered, calm, listen without judgement, be yourself and be authentic. Maintain eye contact, use open gestures and be aware of the other person's body language.

Focus on the issue

Focus on the issue rather than the person and stick to the facts. If you are addressing a behavioural issue, describe the impact the person's behaviour has had and who it affected. Use specific examples as evidence to back up what you are saying, this will help put the conversation in context, and switch the focus from 'you' to 'I'.

Asking questions

This can help you understand a situation fully and allows the individual some time to think and reflect too.

Acknowledge the other person's point of view

What you have said may come as a surprise so ensure that you allow them sufficient time to take on board your points and give them the opportunity to reply.

Work together

Work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution: ask the individual for suggestions on what they could do to address the situation discussed, then agree on the next steps, who will be responsible for them and how/when you will monitor progress.

How to start the conversation

It is often hard to know where to begin when you need to have a difficult conversation, especially if the other person is unaware of the situation. However, the phrases below might help to get you talking:

  • Would this be a suitable time to talk?
  • I have something I would like to discuss with you – do you have a few minutes to spare now?
  • I need your help with something. Can we talk about it now?
  • I have been meaning to speak to you, when would be a good time for you?
  • I have some feedback I would like to share with you, is that okay?

Handling reactions

It is important to understand that different people will respond in different ways. Some may be angry, or tearful, perhaps defensive or try to divert the blame elsewhere. You can’t control this, but you can control the situation by:

  • Recognising the other person’s emotion, e.g. their tone of voice or body language.
  • Staying calm - if someone is raising their voice, resist the temptation to do the same, and remain professional and in control.
  • Summarise what you are hearing as this will help show you are listening and understand their view/feelings and have a more meaningful conversation.
  • If the other person is very angry, let them vent their feelings and listen until they have finished to keep things calm.

While it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations, when managed properly, they have the potential to be constructive discussions which can help improve relationships and morale.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stockport, Cheshire, SK12
Written by Shona Garner, Chartered MCIPD
Stockport, Cheshire, SK12

I support individuals and organisations to reach their full potential through coaching, and mentoring. I am passionate about helping people to realise their strenghs, capabilities and career aspirations. Please contact me if you want to find out how I can help you.

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