How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work 

How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work 

We tend to avoid difficult conversations with friends, loved ones, and coworkers throughout our lives. But difficult conversations are inevitable. It is even more challenging to have such conversations at work as you need to maintain some standards of professionalism and respect. There are plenty of difficult work conversations that we dread, from being called out for a mistake, confronting a coworker, and asking for a raise. Therefore, if you are wondering how to handle difficult conversations at work, here are a few steps to help you.     

Change Your Mindset  

While we usually have an aggressive attitude during difficult conversations, you must take a few moments and identify your mindset before entering any such situation. For example, if you are about to confront your boss, you might have considered the worst possible scenario and hope to leave the job. Similarly, as a manager, if you are about to confront your employees, then you may have a reckless mindset where you are considering finding them.  

You must understand that to reach a proper consensus, you must move past any immovable stance in any two-sided conversation. Such kind of mindset will not get you anywhere. Hence take a few moments to identify your mindset, and if possible, try to abandon it while having difficult conversations at work.   

Take a Deep Breath 

Another popular method for handling difficult conversations is to practice mindfulness and meditation breathing. Even if you do not have a confrontation in your schedule, try to practice mindfulness daily. While walking down the hallway, take a minute to breathe, take five minutes during the break, or take a mindful walk. And while practicing mindfulness, breathe and look at the world around you in a non-judgmental way.  

This can help you ahead of any difficult conversations at work. If you are nervous about this conversation, taking a deep breath can help cool down your heart rate. It will also give you enough time to focus on your thoughts while abandoning a difficult mindset.  

Have an Agenda 

It is very difficult to manage our emotions while having difficult work conversations. It can also make us forget issues that we wish to take up. Therefore, preparing a list of the things we want to take up is a good way of managing difficult conversations. For example, if you are going to ask for a raise, you must make a list of your significant achievements, milestones, and clients. This will help you to remember your cause even if the conversation goes off track.   

Listen Actively  

Listening is one of the essential skills to learn to know how to handle difficult conversations at work. While it may sound easy, it is challenging, especially during difficult work conversations. We have all made the mistake of waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that we may interject. However, this is a sign of a weak mindset.  

We should not only let the other person speak but also use mirror language to prove that we have been listening. For example, if your manager says he is frustrated because you missed your deadlines, you must respond by saying, "I understand that you are frustrated that I missed a few deadlines.” To have appropriate workplace conversations, active listening is essential. Active listening may not only stop potential problems in their tracks but also show empathy and a high level of respect and can improve overall communication.  

Be Compassionate  

You must have compassion and empathy while handling difficult conversations at work. No matter how difficult the conversation might become, you need to consider the other person’s point of view. This also suggests that you should keep your feelings and emotions aside during difficult conversations. You must allow the other person to express their opinion before you can proceed on your own.  

Read Also: Leading with Empathy: The Most Important Leadership Skill 


You must also take some time to reflect during any difficult work conversations. Sometimes these conversations can become very uncomfortable, and we speed through them. However, slowing down the process allows both parties to communicate and gain each other’s perspective. Hence try to take some time for reflection. If you find yourself too overwhelmed, you may schedule a further meeting.   

Offer Solutions  

This is one of the most positive steps you can take while having difficult conversations at work. If you find an opportunity, try to offer a solution or recommend any alternative. For example, you may provide project management tools if the conversation is about missed deadlines. Similarly, if you are firing someone, try to offer them recommendations or keep in touch with them. If you can provide any kind of solution, it will encourage the other party to look for an alternative. This will eventually help both of you grow and thrive.  

Since it is inevitable, you cannot escape having a difficult conversation. However, you can easily handle difficult conversations using a few strategies. Therefore, if you are still wondering how to handle difficult conversations at work, try to have a positive mindset, listen actively, and offer solutions. 

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

Hi there, we're the editorial team at WomELLE. We offer resources for business and career success, promote early education and development, and create a supportive environment for women. Our magazine, "WomLEAD," is here to help you thrive both professionally and personally.

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