Breath of Clarity

Difficult Conversation Strategies

Plan to Manage Difficult Conversations:

First of all, prior to the conversation, I need to place value in the people by seeing them as the company’s most important resource (Manning 2014).

From there, it is important to gauge the situation so that I can determine whether or not I am empowering my followers and putting them in the optimal context to succeed. The extent to which I empower my followers is evident in their degree and quality of engagement. I can understand where they are at in that regard by asking myself the following questions (Manning 2014): Are absenteeism or turnover rates too high? Do people seem uninterested in their work? Do people lack loyalty and team spirit? Is there a lack of communication among individuals and groups?

Additionally, if I notice a surge of costs due to inefficiency amongst employees, it is important for me to take accountability for it and consider whether the quality of product or service needs improvement (Manning 2014). Specifically, I need to assume they will work to implement organizational goals if given a chance (Manning 2014). Further, it is crucial that I approach the difficult conversation with the assumption of trust in people.

From there, some additional rules of thumb to follow prior to the meeting are have a meeting only if a meeting is needed, decide the objectives, make an agenda, and provide pertinent materials in advance (Manning 2014).

During the conversation, I need to once again communicate to the team that I see the staff as a crucial company asset. In order to do so, it is important to focus on establishing rapport and cultivating trust before diving into the issue at hand. In the video from Dalhousie University (n.d.), the leader started with the issue right away which established a tense tone. Instead, it is so important to achieve the predominant goal of showing people that they are valued before anything else.

That said, I would recommend centering the meeting around explicitly recognizing their accomplishments and use that to fuel encouragement of active participation by everyone present (Manning 2014). From there, I can model the idea that people who work together accomplish more by regularly asking the employees specific questions that probe them to share their ideas about ways to improve the organization (Manning 2014). While doing so, I need to place a lot of attention on gauging their responses to various moments in conversation. Solomeh Diaz (n.d.) suggested looking for discomfort cues in crucial conversations. For example, I can look for when the other person is moving towards silent or aggressive tendencies (Diaz n.d.). I can even create a particular cueing system, a strategy to notice what is happening with the other person (Diaz n.d.). The aim is to take a temperature check of the conversation throughout it (Diaz n.d.). If I am sensing discontentment in the room, I would pause the conversation and gently address it by giving the other a chance to speak their mind. That way, there will be a true, collective agreement upon action steps and responsibilities moving forward.

Then, it’s useful to have a process to follow up in a supportive and constructive way after the conversation. The video illustrated mechanisms that opened the gateways of communication so that they could discuss future issues that arise. For instance, the leader scheduled another meeting to discuss topics that are important to employee (Dalhousie University n.d.). I would do the same.


Dalhousie University. Year (n.d.). “Having Difficult Conversations: Resisting Change.” Dalhousie University HR. YouTube. July 20, 2018. Video, 7:44.

Diaz, Solomeh. Year (n.d.) “Warning: Crucial Conversations Are Hard. (Here’s how to make them better.)” Vitalsmarts Australia/New Zealand. YouTube. Sept. 6, 2017. Video, 6:26.

Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill

Comment by Lisa Neuberger:

Hi Mary,

Very nice post! I’m interested in the way you began by thinking about the big-picture issues at the workplace, such as absenteeism rates, and gradually worked down to looking for individual signals during the conversation. You note that you would take responsibility for any morale issues on your team and assume your team members really want the organization to succeed. I think people respond best to leaders when they know they are being given credit for doing their best.

Reading your words about how you would manage the difficult conversation, it really struck me that active listening is hard work. You really have to be able to manage your own emotions as well as be aware of the other person’s signals so you can steer the conversation on the right track.

Comment by Professor Robert Gnuse:

Mary, first of all good reflective questions to ask yourself prior to the conversation. During the conversation its good to initially set the tone of recognizing peoples value. Setting the tone can determine the flow (or lack thereof) of information provided/received. Promoting the whole (inclusiveness) does create a sense of comfort allowing others to be more inclined to share. A way to garner and share feedback should be a concern regarding “after-follow-up” of the conversation. Good suggestions and supportive details.