Career Coaching Blog

The ‘Dos & Don'ts’ of Difficult Conversations at Work

No one enjoys difficult conversations. But avoiding them isn’t an option if you want to be successful in the workplace. Whether you need to have a conversation with a coworker about a sensitive topic, or you’re being called into a meeting with your boss to discuss your performance, difficult conversations are a part of working life.


But just because they’re inevitable doesn’t mean they have to be painful. With a little preparation and mindfulness, you can approach any difficult conversation with confidence. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind the next time you’re facing a difficult conversation at work.


Do: Be Prepared 

The best way to approach any difficult conversation is to be prepared. This means having a clear understanding of what the issue is and why it’s important to address it. You should also come into the conversation with a few potential solutions in mind. This will make it easier to find common ground and come to a resolution that everyone can agree on.


Don’t: Make Assumptions 

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you’re feeling frustrated or anxious about a situation at work. But resist the urge to do so. Making assumptions about what someone else is thinking or feeling will only make the situation worse. Instead, try to see things from their perspective and open yourself up to the possibility that you might be wrong. The other person will likely appreciate your willingness to see things from their point of view, and it will make it easier to find a solution that works for both of you.


Do: Communicate Clearly 

Difficult conversations often go off the rails because people avoid speaking openly and honestly with one another. This leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding, which only makes the situation more difficult. So, make sure that you’re communicating clearly, both verbally and non-verbally. Pay attention to your body language and tone of voice, and avoid speaking in absolutes (e.g., “never” or “always”). These can make it seem like you’re not open to hearing the other person’s side of things.


Don’t: Bring Up Past Issues

It’s important to stay focused on the present when you’re having a difficult conversation at work. Bringing up past issues may, and more often than not will, only escalate the situation and make it more difficult to resolve the current issue. If there are unresolved issues from the past that are relevant to the present situation, deal with them separately so that you can focus on finding a solution to the current problem. 



In Summary

Difficult conversations are a necessary part of working life, but that doesn’t mean they have to be painful. By being prepared, staying mindful, and communicating clearly, you can approach any difficult conversation with confidence. And who knows? Maybe even come out of it with a better understanding of your coworker or boss, and a renewed commitment to working together effectively as a team.