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Mastering Workplace Communication: 5 communication strategies for difficult conversations

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Effective communication is key to creating a successful and harmonious working environment. Conversation itself is an art and to add to the challenge there are occasions where difficult conversations are necessary, and these can be even more challenging to navigate.


Research shows that leaving issues unspoken or conflicts unresolved can lead to increased stress, decreased job satisfaction and a decrease in overall productivity. Furthermore, broaching these topics can play a key role in personal development and organisational growth.


Whether it’s resolving a conflict, addressing performance issues or approaching a sensitive topic, understanding communication strategies can empower you to approach these conversations with confidence and yield positive outcomes.


So, what key communication strategies can help you in your next challenging conversation…












How to have difficult conversations at work


1. Set clear goals and boundaries


Before you enter into a difficult conversation it’s essential to be clear on the purpose and your boundaries before entering into the conversation. Clearly defining your goals will help to guide the discussion, whilst boundaries will help you to keep the conversation on topic and maintain respect.


Tip: Try asking yourself “What is the concern that needs to be addressed?” “What outcome do I want to see from this conversation?” “What could prevent us from achieving this?”


2. Reflective listening


This is a great technique to help ensure that you understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Ensure you are actively listening to what the other person is saying and then paraphrase their words back to them to confirm that you have understood the idea correctly. Doing this will show the other person that you understand their perspective and will help to reaffirm trust and rapport throughout the conversation.


Tip: Try using phrases like “It sounds like…” “What I’m hearing is…” or “I get the sense that…”


3. Demonstrate emotional intelligence


This is all about recognising and regulating your own emotions whilst being empathetic to others. It can be easy to let your emotions take over, so remember to take a quick moment to check in with yourself and take a few deep breaths if necessary.


As you seek to understand their point of view, express empathy with statements like, “I can see how this has been challenging for you”. This will create an atmosphere that encourages the other person to open up more and collaborate, increasing the likelihood of you reaching those goals you set.


4. Be aware of your non-verbal communication


Show that you are engaged by maintaining eye-contact, nodding and sustaining open body language. Small gestures like interrupting can quickly escalate tension and further hinder productive communication so it’s important to allow the other person to fully express themselves.


5. Adopt a coaching approach


Often the desired outcome for difficult conversations is for one person to approach a situation differently in the future. By adopting a coaching approach in the conversation you can promote open communication, encourage self-reflection and support the other person to reach a solution. Don’t make assumptions about how the other person should feel or move forward and ask open-ended questions to encourage more comprehensive responses and allow you to understand their perspective further.















Dealing with difficult conversations


Nobody looks forward to difficult conversations, but they are a great opportunity for personal growth and to prevent any lingering issues from casting a shadow in the background, overall having a positive impact on your working relationships and your overall work environment.


Practising difficult conversations through RealPlay – A free virtual session


Our popular free monthly Development sessions are our way of giving back to the L&D community – We call them Espresso sessions.


Join us at 8:30am GMT on 22nd November to experience a taste of RealPlay and learn more about how to handle difficult conversations.



Support from D4S Organisational Consultancy Team


If you’d like to find out more about how we can support you or your organisation with approaching difficult conversations through coaching, short sessions or want to explore a wider consultancy-based approach to company culture through leadership development get in touch with us.





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