EC3 Consultants’ HR consultant, Rose Djaló, looks at how to deal with difficult conversations in the workplace


Ever had to have a difficult conversation in the workplace which you are dreading? You prepare for it, you rehearse it, you lose some sleep because of it, and then when it finally takes place it never goes the way you planned it! Sound familiar? Well, here are some quick tips on how to deal with difficult conversations in the workplace:

  • Tackle issues early. Don’t let them fester. Showing irritation is not going to get you the end result that you want to achieve.
  • Prepare some bullet points so you are clear why you are having the conversation in the first place but don’t rehearse what you are going to say. Empathy is rarely displayed if you sound like a robot during the meeting.
  • Stop worrying about being liked! It’s not the be all and end all. It is better to be professional and to try and respect the possible impact of the message you are going to deliver, than to worry about being liked.
  • Focus on and listen to what is being said. For example, if a team member has missed another deadline or target, approach them by asking neutral, supporting questions: “I see the project is behind schedule/I see you have missed your target this month. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing”. Then listen to the response. Think about your response to what they have actually said, not what your preconceived response was during your preparation. Ask further questions. Try to limit blame.
  • Be direct. As soon as you invite your colleague to a meeting they will probably know there is an issue unless you have the meeting spontaneously. Try to deliver your message concisely and clearly. If you think your message has not come across then you can agree an action plan at the end of the meeting to ensure you are on the same page.
  • Try to believe there will be a positive outcome to the meeting even if you are delivering bad news. Seek support and/or assistance from HR if necessary.

ACAS has written a useful guide to challenging conversations and how to handle them which can be found at: