Our inner voice is great at letting us know when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone. We know that, if we could have that conversation, we would feel much lighter, and a situation would be improved, maybe for ourselves and maybe for others too.

Our inner voice is great at letting us know when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone. We know that, if we could have that conversation, we would feel much lighter, and a situation would be improved, maybe for ourselves and maybe for others too. But too often our fear gets the better of us and we end up listening to that other inner voice, the one that makes us anxious about the way the conversation might go, and that we might not be able to control it or end things positively…so we put it off.

The person we know we need to talk to may be completely unaware of the way we feel and carry on with the same behaviours that upset us. Or they might be aware something’s not right and feel uncomfortable themselves. Either way the net result of not having that conversation is that things fester. One of us might start to avoid contact with the other, exacerbating the situation. There’s also unnecessary stress experienced by at least one of the parties.

A CPP Global Human Capital Report on conflict in the workplace ('Workplace Conflict and how Businesses can Harness it to Thrive') found the single most critical activity for effective conflict management was deemed by respondents to be conversation. But the way you handle these conversations can be critical if you are to achieve what you want and move things to a better place.

So with that in mind here are some effective tips that can make difficult conversations easier to negotiate – whether you’re in or out of the workplace.

Tip 1: Location, location, location


Think about what would be the right place for the conversation. Does it need to be private? Or would it actually be better if it were in a public place so that emotions are kept in check? If it’s at home, should the children be around? Should you really initiate this conversation in the car while one of you is driving?


If it’s a work colleague you need to talk to, would you be better off going out for lunch or coffee? Or would it be better if you kept it informal rather than making a big thing of it? Perhaps you can catch them on the way out to lunch or on the way home.

Tip 2: Start as you mean to go on

Some people put off having the conversation because they don't know how to start. You’ll feel more confident about having the conversation if you have a good opening line.

In the workplace you might not want to ambush people by surprising them about the nature of the "chat." A direct approach is authentic and respectful: "Hi, I’ve had a couple of clients on the phone about missed deadlines. Can we go out for a coffee later and talk about what the problems are?" Or: "Hi, I notice you’ve had to leave work early a few times lately, let’s have a catch-up at lunchtime."


Your tone of voice should signal that what you want is a discussion and that you haven’t pre-judged the situation.

Tip 3: Intention vs impact

We think that the person we’re trying to communicate with understands our intention. But what they actually understand is the impact that our communication has on them. This impact may or may not be what we intended. We judge ourselves on the intention. They judge us on the impact.


So, when you want to communicate something important, before you open your mouth, ask yourself: ‘What is the impact that I want to make with this communication?’


And then check: ‘Will what I am about to say have that impact?’

Tip 4: Situation, behaviour, impact

No one wants to get involved in a long examination of all their faults. Get clear on what you want to accomplish in this conversation. Keep it specific and focused, for example:


Situation: ‘Yesterday morning when you were presenting to the board…’


Behaviour: ‘…you were rather dismissive of John’s ideas…’


Impact: ‘…I was a bit embarrassed because it made us seem unreceptive, and I really want to keep John on side.’

Then it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a general rant about performance and you are in a position to discuss what your colleague can do to change the way they behave the next time this situation arises, or what they could do to make amends.

Tip 5: Manage your emotions

Keep the conversation respectful, no matter how angry or upset you are. Make a concerted effort to shift your mind away from disturbing emotions and don’t get hijacked by them. Remind yourself of what you set out to achieve with this conversation, and what you can do even now to make sure you follow through with that.

Focus on your breathing. Hang on to your dignity. You’ll thank yourself later.


Tip 6: End on a positive


Be in control of how you want to end the conversation. Consolidate the gains and agree on the conclusion. Review what you have decided to do, even if that is only to talk again at another time.


Don’t let the conversation drag on too long if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Suggest an adjournment and time to think things over. Keep the communication channel open. Once you’ve had one successful difficult conversation, you have something to build on. Notice what went well and what didn’t work so well. Take forward the good bits and ditch the rest.


Caroline Stagg coaches communication and self-awareness skills. Her business CS Coaching supports clients to make the most of their talents by matching them with the behaviours that will move them towards success. To connect with Caroline you can find her on twitter @CarolineStagg


Difficult Conversations Communication Techniques Managing communication Manage Emotions Situation Behaviour Impact Self-awareness Skills


Other Articles

Posted 2096 Days Ago in: Coaching Articles

Be Fabulous at Finance for Coaches! - By Andi Lonnen

You've trained hard, you've passed or are close to passing your coaching qualification and you can't wait to help lots of people who can really benefit from your coaching skills. Fantastic! It might not be the sexiest subject to bring up at this exciting moment but in order to help lots of current and potential coaching clients, you need to stay in business and understand the very basics of finance to do this. Andi Lonnen shares her expert advice.

Read More

Posted 2107 Days Ago in: Coaching Articles

The Do it! Guide to Goal Setting

Setting goals allows us to determine our priorities, make big decisions and start taking steps towards realising our dreams, it takes more than just writing down what we want to achieve.

Read More

Call Us On 0208 996 5057