Handling Difficult Conversations:
10 Tips for Leaders

🕑 4 minutes read | Sep 25 2023 | By Becky Gendron

A leader’s role can be complex.  Leaders often face challenges that stretch their capability and take them outside their comfort zones. Difficult conversations are no exception. In fact, according to a study by according to a study by Bravely, 70% of employees are avoiding difficult conversations at work and 53% of employees are handling “toxic” situations by ignoring them.

Successfully handling difficult conversations requires leaders to use a mix of their influence and have a deep understanding of people and their dynamics. Despite the challenge of managing difficult conversations, they can bring immense growth for both the leader and their employees. A leader who skillfully manages difficult conversations addresses immediate concerns and builds a culture of trust, open communication, and respect.

Let’s explore strategies and approaches that help leaders handle difficult conversations and ensure that the outcome is beneficial and brings positive changes.

10 Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations

  • Recognize the Urgency: Proactive decision-making is a crucial skill for leaders, and incorporating this into leadership development programs can help empower leaders to recognize and navigate difficult conversations effectively, preventing small issues from escalating into major challenges within their teams and organizations
  • Choose the Right Time and Place: Setting the Stage: A critical aspect of navigating difficult conversations is selecting the appropriate setting. Leaders should be deliberate and thoughtful when selecting an environment to tackle a difficult conversation. Not only does the physical space matter but so does the timing. Avoid addressing sensitive topics during busy times or in the presence of colleagues, as this can create additional tension
  • Be Prepared: A leader’s preparation is the heart of their dedication to effective leadership. Collect data, facts, and insights connected to and prior to the conversation. This preparation ensures that actual information guides the conversation instead of assumptions. Being prepared helps a leader begin the talk clearly and confidently, setting the tone for a productive sharing of ideas.
  • Use Empathy: Effective leadership requires an understanding of the emotions and perspectives shared by those involved. A leader who listens with empathy creates a safe space for the expression of thoughts and feelings. Leaders who develop and cultivate empathy are more successful in gaining a mutual understanding that results in more meaningful conversations.
  • Active Listening: Active listening is an indispensable skill for leaders. During a difficult conversation, focus on truly understanding the speaker’s perspective. This involves making eye contact, showing engagement, and paraphrasing their points to show comprehension. Active listening communicates respect and helps the speaker to fully express themselves.
  • Maintaining Composure During Emotional Currents: Difficult conversations tend to evoke emotions. As a leader, developing the ability to maintain emotional composure is critical. Your composure sets a tone of professionalism and logic. This can help guide the conversation in a more practical direction which encourages solutions.
  • Shifting Focus to Solutions: Leaders are catalysts for transformation and change. Guide the conversation away from focusing only on the problem and towards brainstorming solutions. Encourage all parties involved to collaborate on solving the problem and on viable resolutions. This approach empowers the team and fosters a sense of ownership.
  • Building Bridges Through Common Ground: A key tactic for leaders is to find common ground by identifying areas of agreement or shared objectives. This will help leaders establish trust and set the stage for a productive conversation. This alignment creates a more positive atmosphere, making it easier to address more challenging aspects of the conversation.
  • The Power of Follow-Up: Leadership goes beyond the present. Following a conversation, demonstrating your dedication through actions and enhancements is essential. This practice not only reinforces the conversation’s significance but also highlights your commitment to helping your team advance and progress.
  • A Path of Growth: Becoming a master at handling difficult conversations is an ongoing journey. Each experience you have is an opportunity to refine your leadership skills and become increasingly skillful, compassionate, and proficient. View these opportunities as a means to develop leadership skills. This growth extends beyond simply having difficult conversations to effectively managing them.

Elevating Leadership Through Difficult Conversations

In leadership, the skill of managing difficult conversations cultivates resilience, and trust, and supports ongoing development. These skills can be learned and are valuable to leaders on all levels. Leaders show their dedication to creating a positive atmosphere by engaging in open talks, respecting others, and striving for constant growth. The art of handling difficult conversations is not only a leadership skill but a testament to the leader’s capacity to conquer obstacles and transform them into opportunities.

The ability to navigate difficult conversations with empathy, wisdom, and a solution-oriented approach can help set you apart as a leader who is not afraid to face conflicts. This leadership style will have a significant impact on employees and the entire organization. It promotes a culture that welcomes challenging discussions and views them as opportunities for improvement.

Contact TTA today to see how we can help develop your leaders so they can successfully navigate difficult conversations in the workplace.

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