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5 Effective Tips to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Good communication skills during difficult situations allow others and you to understand information more accurately, whereas, poor communication skills creates misunderstandings.

conversation tactics

Professionals in every industry often find themselves in difficult communication scenarios. They feel less prepared to tackle such tough situations. A few examples of such scenarios are addressing under/poor performance, discussing unacceptable behaviour, investigating reports of harassment, denying employee requests, giving developmental feedback, conservation regarding sensitive personal issues, handling a grievance or disciplinary process, or conveying to an employee that their job is at risk.


There is a natural tendency for professionals to delay taking action in such daunting situations while hoping that the issue will be resolved without their intervention. But procrastination rarely works and if issues are ignored they are likely to escalate and become even more difficult to resolve. It is highly recommended to tackle these problems at an early stage through apt conversation tactics to prevent the situation from worsening and maintain a fine professional decorum.


Effective Tips For Handling Difficult Conversations


A difficult conversation is one whose primary subject matter is very sensitive and may bring out strong, sophisticated emotions that can be hard to control. We all tend to avoid such conversations because of their intensity and complexity. However, by following the right approach and conversation tactics, developing the right communication skills, and with a clear mindset and behaviour, you can maximise your ability to handle the conversation effectively and reach a satisfying conclusion.


1. Let People Share Their Views:

The single most important conversation hack is to let people talk about their views. Show an interest in hearing about a person’s ideas, or goals and it will likely get the conversation going right away. Meanwhile, avoid becoming too nosy. If you feel a person is not uncomfortable sharing something, change the subject to another topic.


2. Give Warm Feedback:


Be positive and diplomatic in your feedback and make sure that your feedback is welcomed. Being genuine is important. Always try to be honest with your feedback rather than simply agreeing with everything you hear.


3. Ask Open-ended Questions:


Ask open-ended questions to start discussing a topic in detail. Such questions require more than just a yes-or-no answer. These questions prove to be a very effective conversation hack as they encourage people to share information and highly likely they will discuss their opinion eventually.


4. Ask for an Explanation:


Asking someone else to explain something to you shows that you think that you value that person and have something significant to teach you. If someone is talking about a topic you are not able to understand, you must ask for an explanation.


5. Request Advice/Suggestion:

Asking for suggestions or advice shows that you value someone else’s opinion. Always be willing to respectfully listen to someone else’s point of view in a complex situation. Although, it is not mandatory for you to follow it.


Things To Avoid During Difficult Conversations


Here are the seven things that you need to avoid during a difficult (or any) conversation:


1. Using words like “Clearly” or “Obviously”

2. Exaggeration and generalisation

3. Using judgemental phrases like “You Should”

4. Avoid beating the bush

5. Blaming others for your feelings

6. Questioning someone’s intention

7. Saying “It’s Not Personal”


Read about these points here in detail: What Not to Say/Do during Difficult Conversations


You should feel confident and proud of yourself for handling tough conversations. It takes real courage. Each time you overcome your nervousness, you will take a step further towards a successful result.


Do you communicate smartly or need help to enhance your communication skills? Take the Free Communication Skills Assessment to take the first step to speak with confidence.

Smita D Jain is a Certified Life Coach, Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner. Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Personal Clarity Coaching Programs enable busy professionals unhappy in their jobs to tap into their passions and transform them into professions so that they work because they want to, not because they have to.


Prior to her journey as a coach, Smita had extensive experience of 14 years as a corporate and business strategy professional with Fortune 500 companies. She is also a speaker at various public forums, a published writer, and an Amazon bestselling author.


You can learn more about Personal Empowerment Life Coach and Executive Coach Smita D Jain’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Coaching Programs by visiting