How to have a difficult conversation?

If you need to have a difficult conversation and tackle an issue it’s best to have it as early as possible and handle it professionally. Put it off and the chances are that frustrations will leak out anyway, just in different (and probably unproductive) ways! Here are the steps to prepare for, and actually have the conversation. So, you can get to a resolution by agreeing actions and following up.

Think it through before the conversation starts, it’s all about getting to what works, and going through systematically rather than spending time worrying. This will give you the clarity and confidence you need to have the conversation.
Start by breaking it down to:
  • Where’s your head at? Take a temperature check before you start.
  • What’s your emotional reaction to the issue? It’s important to be self-aware.
  • What’s your normal style in these situations and how will that help or hinder?
The Issue
  • Be clear on the issue and have examples.
  • Get the facts.
  • What’s the impact of the issue?
  • How will you highlight the impact of the issue?
  • What options are there for potential solutions?
  • What resolution would you be happy with?
The other person
  • Think about where their head might be at.
  • How are they likely to respond?
  • Is there a good way to tell them according to their style/personality?

State the issue, you need to get straight to the point. Don’t get distracted, remember your preparation and stick to the facts, keep it even with no judgement:
  • Explain factually what the problem is.
  • Outline the impact of the issue.
  • Explain the consequence.
Next you want to hear what they have to say:
  • Ask an open question and give them time to respond.
  • Listen to them.
  • Be fair and respectful.
When it comes to dealing with their responses show empathy but keep the focus on the facts. Always come back to what you prepared: How can you get the issue resolved together? Then agree actions and make plans for following up. You don’t want to have the conversation again!


Find out about our Difficult Conversations course