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How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work

Let’s face it, we’re not always going to agree with our coworkers, bosses, or clients. We’re built to disagree with one another, to have diverse interests, and tackle problems and situations from different angles and in different ways. For the most part, that’s what is beautiful about working on a team. But, this also means that difficult conversations are part of the mix. However, when done right, talking through these conversations can spark creativity and understanding. Whether you find yourself disagreeing with your coworker, or have to give a client bad news, consider using these tips when a difficult conversation arises.

Acknowledge your differences

There can be very negative consequences when conflict isn’t addressed. Resentment can build and a toxic work culture can follow. The best way to avoid these consequences is to address your conflict or differences head on. Enter into the conversation knowing you have a different opinion, but don’t completely write off the other person’s perspective. It can be difficult, but try treating the conversation as a learning opportunity; consider compromising, and if needed, address the root of the conflict, not just the straw that broke the camel’s back.


We all react in different ways. Some people are really good at expressing their frustrations, while others let the frustration build until they explode. Know yourself and take time to reflect on how you’re handling the situation and how you want to be handling the situation. This is where breathing comes in. Before you react, take deep breaths, and buy yourself some time to respond to the situation intentionally.


Sometimes in the midst of difficult conversations, our minds can go blank. Write down specific points you want to address in your conversation, but don’t memorize your words verbatim. In order to have an authentic conversation, you have to do some of your thinking in the moment.

Take notes

It’s important to feel like you’re being heard, especially during a crucial conversation. If it feels appropriate, consider taking notes during your conversation in an effort to understand the person you’re speaking with. Pay attention to your body language and non-verbal cues throughout the discussion. It’s easy for your body to say one thing while your words say another. Remember that as difficult as this conversation is for you, it’s likely that the person on the other end feels the same way.

Conflict is a natural part of building a team’s cohesiveness. It’s nothing to worry about, and can actually strengthen working relationships. The key to having success with conflict, is to take the time to talk through it and find a solution that works for all who are involved.

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