Top 10 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations at Work – by Dionne Dury

October 31st, 2019

It is par for the course as a manager that you will face having difficult conversations with staff from time to time. Such conversations might include tackling personal sensitive issues, providing developmental feedback, raising performance issues, disciplining staff or telling an employee that they are at risk of redundancy/losing their job.

It is natural to feel fearful of having a difficult conversation given the high level of emotion that is likely to be shown and not knowing or being able to control the other person’s reaction to that news. It is also a common fact that many managers have not had any formal training on how to have a difficult conversation and often shy away from having a face to face conversation in such scenarios.

The informal conflict resolution work that we do has helped me develop some key skills for having difficult conversations and I wanted to share some top tips that might help next time you are faced with a difficult conversation!

  1. Prepare – whilst you cannot script a difficult conversation or know in advance how the other person will receive / hear the news that you are going to give, you can still prepare what you want to say. Prepare an opening to the conversation and put a structure around it as well as thinking about what outcome you are hoping for and prepare a number of responses to how the other party might react.
  2. Manage the environment – where and when you have the conversation is in your control. Avoid distractions and ensure a private location away from colleagues. Allow sufficient time in your diary (and the diary of the other person) for the conversation to take place.
  3. Manage yourself – stay calm! Research shows that if you are calm, this will influence the other person.
  4. Establish rapport – if someone trusts you and likes you, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say. Find a common connection or state how you are feeling; showing vulnerability can show that you are human.
  5. Listen, listen, listen! – deep listening is one of the most difficult skills to learn and practise effectively. Listen to seek to understand the other’s point of view and perspective.
  6. Use clear, neutral language – there are many studies which support that the language that we use has an impact on how we feel and negative words will stay with us for much longer than the positive ones!
  7. Allow space – avoid the temptation of filling a silence and allow the other person space to hear what you have said and express themselves.
  8. Reflect back / summarise – it is not uncommon for the person receiving bad news to only hear parts of what you have said. One way to combat this is by summarising / reflecting back to check understanding.
  9. Check your assumptions – we are all good at jumping to conclusions about other people’s intentions / points of view and we cannot know that our assumptions are right. They are likely to be wrong!
  10. Self-reflection – no matter what level of experience you have as a manager, it is always good practice to reflect on how you could have done things differently / improve going forward and you may want to seek feedback or coaching support from peers to help with this.

At Resolution at Work we can provide difficult conversations training in-house for line managers and HR professionals which can be tailored to suit your organisation (see here for further details). We can also provide individual one to one coaching to prepare for having a difficult conversation.

If you would like further information about this or any of our other services, please contact us at [email protected] or by calling 0800 0489 235.

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It’s always been an absolute pleasure to work with Dionne.  She is always professional, prompt to respond and looking for a constructive outcome in every situation.  We have greatly appreciated the work she has done for us. Working with witnesses in what can often be challenging circumstances requires a high level of emotional intelligence and skill.  Throughout Dionne managed every meeting with professionalism and sensitivity, working towards a constructive outcome for all parties.  Her communication was prompt and focussed and allowed the company to entrust her with managing a complex situation greatly enhancing the value to the business and to managers involved.  This is an incredibly challenging environment and Resolution at work and, Dionne in particular, have delivered for the company without fail. The value gained from being able to trust Dionne/Resolution at Work to manage complex casework has been immensely valuable to the organisation.  It gives an independent and professional credibility to the process and enhances the reputation of the business as a result.

Andy Perry, Head of HR, Radioactive Waste Management Limited | Head of HR, Radioactive Waste Management Limited

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