Do you need to have a difficult conversation with someone at work?  Your stomach churns every time you anticipate the response of the other individual, your head pounds at the thought of having to address sensitive issues with your boss and you are losing sleep thinking of the “what ifs”.

No one is immune to workplace tensions and it is inevitable that that you will have difficult discussions with clients, bosses and coworkers during your career.  Though it is doubtful that you will enthusiastically look forward to these conversations, there are some techniques which can make them more effective and lead to better results:

  • Don’t speak from a script – if you memorize what you will say, it will come across as less than sincere.  The other individual will be able to sense that you have scripted out your approach and s/he will not be open to engage in a resolution-based conversation. Jotting down a few speaking points is a good idea, though, to help you remain focused.
  • Ask questions vs. react – What might be going on with the other person?  What can you do to help?  By focusing on the other person’s needs, you will avoid inaccurate assumptions and non-productive emotions. While this may not be the most natural response to the situation, it will help you better understand the other perspective.
  • Provide context – to help the other person understand your message, give sufficient information so s/he knows why this issue is important to you. 
  • Repeat & Restate – Simply put, don’t assume your communications are communicating,  All communications involve the sender and receiver. Don’t assume the other party understands your points until you have had a chance to hear it from them.  Ask for them to repeat back what they have heard from you to ensure understanding of the message. This is especially critical when closing the conversation so both parties have the same understanding of the resolution and follow up, if necessary.


It’s understandable to dread a difficult discussion, especially if the stakes are high; however, through utilizing these techniques and trying to keep it from becoming personal, you will have a much better chance at having a desirable outcome.


  1. Great post, Patricia. Those are never fun conversations, at least for most people. They are one of the reasons I don’t want to “manage” people anymore. Coaching, mentoring, and leading are very different. I just don’t enjoy managing anymore, which is why I do what I do now.

    Thanks for the awesome content,

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