Difficult conversations

Difficult conversations

As a leader you often need to deliver unwelcome or unexpected messages. While this is never easy, understanding how to deliver these messages will help you maintain a positive and productive relationship with the person impacted.

Preparing for these conversations is central to achieving positive outcomes.

  Check the hints and tips section for practical input to your conversations.


Match the tool to the task

  • Take time to prepare for difficult conversations. Use the Difficult conversation planner to clarify your approach in advance of the meeting.
  • People often respond emotionally to difficult messages. See Stages of change for ways to help people reach the point where they can take positive action.
  • The importance of feedback cannot be overstated. We all need feedback to understand what we are doing well and what we need to do differently. Use the AIID Feedback tool to prepare for these important conversations.
  • We all come across difficult people from time to time and often have to deal with their negative behaviour. Use the Dealing with difficult peopleresource to plan strategies to turn negative behaviour around.
  • Use Suspending assumptions - Ladder of inference to work out how to avoid making assumptions or 'jumping to conclusions' that can lead to conflict.

Further reading

  • Crucial conversations, Kerry Petterson, Joseph Grenny (2011)

Hints and tips for conversations

  • A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are prepared and what you say. They are connected.
  • Choose time and place carefully.
  • Acknowledge emotional energy - yours and theirs - and direct it towards a useful purpose. Don't ignore it.
  • Be clear about your purpose, know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
  • Don't assume they can see things from your point of view.
  • Practise the conversation - at least in your head - and visualise a successful outcome.

Designed and developed for the London Leadership Academy by Heather Schoenheimer Consulting, in conjunction with the Royal Free London Foundation Trust OD Department