5 Ways To Deal With Difficult Conversations


It’s a reality of business that we will all face difficult and challenging conversations with other members of staff at some point during our career.  Whether the issue is a challenge to your authority, a concern about an employee’s performance or even a problem with your own manager; it’s essential that the modern business professional doesn’t shy away. The ability to converse about difficult, sensitive and emotive subjects is key to being a dynamic and effective leader. Being able to engage with staff on such issues will boost performance, enhance team dynamics and improve staff attendance.

There are several practical steps you can take to help you deal with these types of conversations. These will ensure the best outcome for everyone involved.

Clarify the issue

Being clear about what exactly is the issue is crucial in enabling a successful outcome to a difficult conversation. A lack of clarity on the exact matter will throw the conversation off on a tangent and scupper your intentions of getting to the heart of the matter. Making sure all parties are aware of the exact concern will expedite a positive outcome.

Be clear about your objective

It is imperative that you are clear about your objective when confronting a difficult situation. Being clear in your own mind about what your conversation should achieve, will enable you to keep the conversation on track, drive the matter forward and keep it relevant to the issue in hand.

Manage emotions

Emotions will never be too far away from the surface when having a difficult conversation. It is necessary that all parties keep these in check if a positive and fruitful outcome is to be achieved. Even when people are being rude and you are in absolute disagreement with them, it is important to treat them with respect and help them maintain their dignity. This can prevent discord evolving into anger and rage. The presence of emotions should be recognised but they should never be allowed to cloud the issues at hand.

Don’t be afraid of silence

It’s human nature to be uncomfortable with silence, and there is a temptation in a difficult conversation to jump in and fill any periods of quiet. Silence however can be used in a positive way . A short period of quiet has a calming effect, and lets the previous conversation ‘sink in’. It gives people a chance to gather their thoughts, take stock of the situation and look at things more objectively than in the heat of a difficult conversation. Making silence work for you will let conversations breathe and enable them to be kept on track more effectively. Ultimately, this will ensure a positive resolution is achieved.

Difficult conversations by their very nature are never going to be easy. Taking the steps above will ensure that you are best prepared to deal with these challenging situations, and enable you to achieve positive and satisfying outcomes for all involved.

‘Till next time,

Isobel Burns