At Work: How to Handle Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Updated: Aug 16, 2019



How to Handle Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

by Joanne Troppello

No one wants to have a difficult conversation in the workplace. Maybe you have to bring up a difficult topic with someone on your team about their performance on a project. If you have issues with conflict resolution, you may want to skirt the issue, avoid it, and hope the issue will go away.

However, you cannot avoid situations that need to be resolved. A toxic situation in the workplace may only continue to fester if you don’t know how to handle that difficult conversation that needs to happen.

A study by CPP, Inc. showed that approximately 2.8 hours every week is spent dealing with conflict in the workplace. The study further detailed that when those conflicts were not properly handled, that led to 33 percent of employees experiencing personal injury from physical attacks. Additionally, 22 percent of those employees became ill and needed to remain at home taking sick days. The study also reported that 10 percent of those employees were not able to effectively complete team projects in the workplace. You can handle difficult conversations in the workplace and create a more positive environment by using these simple tips.

1. Handle with a Direct Approach

For people who have strong personalities, they may be able to directly handle difficult conversations without much hesitation. Introverted people may not want to take on this challenge as readily. Whatever your personality type, you need to have a positive delivery. The direct approach focuses on facing the crux of the issue head-on in a professional manner and you seek to find a positive resolution. The following tips can help you master the direct approach.

  • Perspective – See the issue from the other person’s perspective. If you charge right in and start talking with a raised voice, you won’t get a positive result. Take a direct approach but remember to think about how this person is going to feel and respond to you. You want them to respond back and not react in a negative way.

  • Manners – You can successfully use the direct approach if you remember your manners and speak to the person in a polite way. Maintain a calm and professional tone throughout the conversation. Don’t yell. Don’t be condescending. Let this person know that you are coming in peace and are not the “enemy.”

  • Execution – Come prepared with facts and not assumptions. Don’t speak in a confrontational tone where the person feels like they are being interrogated. Have an equal exchange of ideas with the main goal of effectively discussing the issue and working toward a positive resolution.

2. Handle with an Indirect Approach

If you are more introverted and do not like conflict, this approach to handling conflict will be better for you. If you remain calm and process the steps first, you should be able to handle this conversation without wanting to hide away in your office hoping the issue would fade away. Follow these tips to help you with the indirect approach.

  • Severity – Take this issue seriously. Remember that if you don’t handle this difficult conversation, the situation is not going to get better. Negative results will happen if you don’t have this difficult conversation with your boss, manager, or coworker. Don’t let the issue fester.

  • Confidence – You can do this. It sounds like a simple statement, but if you want the situation to get better at work, you need to be confident in yourself. Face the facts. Acknowledge that you are scared to have this conversation, but that it needs to be done.

  • Performance – Now that you know how important this is and your confidence is pumping, you need to perform well and have this conversation. Keep a positive mindset and remind yourself about the facts. You need to move forward with the facts and push down your emotions. Don’t allow fear, nervousness, or anger to take over. Stick to the truth and you will make it through this difficult conversation.

3. Handle with a Teamwork Approach

Sometimes you may be too direct or not direct enough and need a third party to intervene in the situation. You may need a third party to help you stay calm. Maybe this person will help you stay focused on the facts and not let your emotions take over. Take a look at how you can handle difficult conversations with a teamwork approach.

  • Honesty – You need to be honest with yourself and the neutral third party to make this approach work well. Once you’ve admitted that the first two approaches won’t work for you, then you can be successful with this one—if you’re honest. You need this person involved to help you successfully handle the conversation.

  • Planning – You need to be on the same page with your third-party person in this situation. If you detour from the previously agreed upon script, the conversation won’t end well. Of course, you won’t be reciting from an actual script. However, you need to refrain from an emotionally charged conversation and stick to the facts and objectives already laid out. Create a facial expression or key word to signal if you need your third-party individual to intervene in the conversation. For more introverted individuals, you may need your third-party person to begin the conversation and guide you through the conversation like a mediator.

  • Action – Remember that action is the key word. It’s great to think about the conversation and plan it out. However, if you never take action, nothing will ever change or be resolved. Refrain from stilted conversation that doesn’t flow and move toward a resolution. Rely on the stability of your third-party individual to help you keep the conversation on track, so you don’t make the situation even worse than when you started.

Working in an emotionally-charged or toxic environment can be extremely stressful. It is best to clear the air and allow the facts to lead the way toward positive resolutions. Take the time to correctly ascertain which of these three approaches is the best one for you to take. Make sure that you always remain one hundred percent professional.

Have you ever engaged in a difficult conversation at work? What approach did you take and did it go well creating a positive resolution?

About the Author


Joanne Troppello is a published author of 3 inspirational fiction novels and the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Pandora's Box Gazette.

She has experience as a freelance writer in topics such as marketing, retail marketing, health and wellness, internet and media, travel and lifestyle, website content, app recommendations, and content for blogs.

Visit her Amazon Author Page for more information regarding her books. Connect with Joanne on Twitter.


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