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How To Handle Difficult Conversations With Coworkers

Whether we like it or not, most of us we will have to have difficult conversations in our lifetime. One of the more common places that a difficult conversation may arise is in the workplace. Many of us will have little to no clue on how to handle these conversations when they present ourselves, but it is important that we don’t avoid having them.

Some forward-thinking companies train their managers and senior executives how to handle these conversations. They will hire consultants for personalized training or conversations workshops for large groups. However, most people are not afforded that opportunity. So we’ve compiled a list of five simple tips on how to handle difficult conversations with coworkers.

Have a plan

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

You can prep yourself for the pending conversation by planning out in your mind how you want the conversation to go. Detail your main talking points and what the overall objective of the conversation should be.

While it shouldn’t be expected that the conversation will go exactly how you planned in your head, it does help to visualize it beforehand. Having a plan can help you stay on topic and get to the root of the problem during the conversation.


Having a difficult conversation is… well, difficult. These conversations can be stressful and be frustrating. Controlling your breathing during these difficult conversations can help reduce the stress and limit the emotions involved. You can incorporate mindful breathing exercises into your daily routine to help prepare you for your difficult conversation.

Don’t bring in emotions

Usually difficult conversations are brought on because of poor performance, disruptive or inappropriate behavior, or a number of other harmful behaviors. Attached with these behaviors is a wide range of negative emotions, including anger, sadness and frustration. We may want to yell or scream at the individual because of their actions, however, controlling your emotions and letting cooler heads prevail is essential to managing a difficult conversation.

Listen to them

Take time to listen. Rosalie Puiman suggests that you, “Ask questions, really listen to the answer (also trying to hear what’s not being said) and ask follow up questions, to help both of you get the full picture.” Listening and asking the right questions can help uncover underlying issues that could be causing the problem and help resolve it.

Be understanding

Empathy can go a long way.

Showing someone that you care about them and are understanding of their situation can go a long way. You want to find the correct balance between empathy and being confident in your decision. Jean-Francois Manzoni reminds that while you’re being empathetic, it’s important not to emote as well. Never play the victim if you have to give bad news by saying something like, “This is really hard for me to do.”

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About the Author Annabelle Smyth

Annabelle Smyth is a freelance writer who covers everything from HR to technology and leadership skills. Her most recent work involves partnership marketing with Bamboo HR where she has had the opportunity to learn about the relationship between leadership and successful businesses.

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