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Having Difficult Conversations

Many people avoid having difficult conversations. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone, but we’re here to tell you that difficult conversations don’t have to be as intimidating as they may seem. With the following tips and some practice, you should feel much more comfortable saying the important things.

Before a Difficult Conversation

Determine what the issue is that you need to address, and reflect on the specifics. Something to think about is whether this is a recurring issue or a one-time problem that should be discussed.

Often when we’re frustrated we can default to our fight-or-flight mode and let our emotions drive us. It’s important to process the emotional side of things, but your goal should be to get to an objective point of view so you can come to the conversation with factual information, rather than the interpretations and emotions you have tied to what happened.

During the Difficult Conversation

Once you’ve got your brain clear and in check, it’s time to have the conversation. Use the pre-work you did to start the conversation with the facts of the situation. Stating factual information helps the conversation start in a calmer place and prevent defensiveness.

Once you’ve shared your observations, you can then bring some of your interpretation into it. It’s important to remember and phrase things as your perspective so you’re keeping the conversation open and inviting the other person to provide a different perspective or explanation of the facts.

When having a difficult conversation it’s important to avoid words like “why,” “always” and “never,” because those can bring a strong or accusatory tone into the conversation.

Ensure that you’re using open body language and inviting the person to share their opinions on the matter. As stated in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then be understood”. The goal of a difficult conversation is to create a common understanding and clear expectations, and to determine how you will move forward.

After the Difficult Conversation

Keep the lines of communication open by sharing feedback and following up on how things are going. Continue making it clear to the person that you’re open to a constructive conversation in the future if needed.


Feeling confident having difficult conversations is just one part of being an effective leader. Are you looking for additional support developing leadership skills? We have a 5-part leadership training to support management teams with all aspects of being an effective leader, including:

  1. What Type of Leader am I?

  2. Creating and Managing High Performing Teams

  3. Managing Performance Effectively

  4. Human Resources for Management

  5. The Happy Leader

Email us at to inquire about training for yourself or your management team.


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