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How to have a difficult conversation at work

1 February 2022

Working with other people means that from time to time, you’ll need to have what feels like a difficult conversation. This might be sharing a tough decision, giving or receiving feedback, or trying to influence someone to come to a decision you want. These types of conversations can feel difficult due to heightened emotions, a feeling of uncertainty or vulnerability, and potentially risk. But if you don’t have a conversation, or “agree to disagree” the long-term impact can be resentment, a feeling of being treated unfairly, and you could potentially lose a good team member.

To ensure a difficult conversation goes well, we recommend the following approach:


  • Get clear on the outcome you want
  • Gather facts/data, challenge your assumptions
  • Let go of desire to be right
  • Rally your resilience
  • Focus on collaboration
  • Mentally rehearse the conversation

During the conversation

  • Listen without judgement
  • Be curious – ask questions to get really clear on what is going on for the other person
  • Be empathetic – even if you don’t agree, seek to understand what’s at stake for them
  • Be positive and constructive
  • Take a break if either of you need 5mins to calm down

After the conversation

  • Thank the other person and agree on next steps
  • Reflect on what went well/not so well – what can you learn for next time?

If you’d like to learn more about how to have an effective difficult conversation, please get in touch with the Impact HR team, or join us for our free webinar on 2 March 2022.

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