Managing difficult conversations


There will always be times in our lives where we are faced with conversations that we anticipate will be difficult. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we all tend to put off difficult conversations because of the intensity and complexity of the emotions they tend to evoke.

If you are a manager, you will know that these situations are difficult to avoid. It might seem easier to put off the conversation or even avoid the conversation or situation completely, but there are important reasons why they need to take place. The ability to be able to talk about sensitive and emotive issues is an integral part of effective management and can be critical to managing performance, promoting attendance, and improving the dynamics of your team.

Remember, it isn’t about winning the argument or using your authority to browbeat another into compliance

Talking face to face with an employee about strong emotive issues will take most managers out of their comfort zone. Fear of how people will react and whether you will be able to handle their reactions, feelings of vulnerability or concern about a loss of control, can make us all reluctant to raise an issue face-to-face. You may even be concerned that you will not be supported by senior managers, HR department and/or other colleagues if you take steps to address these issues. However, by adopting the right approach, preparing yourself carefully and developing the right skills, mindset and behaviour, you will be able maximise your ability to handle the conversation effectively and steer it to a successful conclusion acceptable to all involved.

Difficult conversations are best managed if they are planned in advance and, where appropriate, carried out privately. This gives some degree of structure and control over the situation. Handling sensitive issues requires a different approach from what is typically used in everyday conversations.

Some key principles to bear in mind when faced with dealing with these situations are as follows:

  • Be careful not to ‘jump the gun!’ – you need to make sure that you are in full possession of the facts. Do not leap to judgement.
  • Be an active listener. Ask questions of the other person and listen to their answers. Seek clarification on anything you do not understand.
  • Use empathy – consider the situation from the other person’s point of view and how they might be feeling
  • Assert yourself in a confident and professional manner
  • Be prepared to make compromises to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome
  • Avoid aggressive or confrontational language or body language
  • Remain calm and as relaxed as possible

Remember, it isn’t about winning the argument or using your authority to browbeat another into compliance – it’s about finding a win-win solution, or at the very least, an amicable agreement.

Even in cases where the outcome is non-negotiable, it is still important to share thoughts and feelings, and whatever the outcome of the conversation, it’s imperative to offer support to individuals.

As a leading provider of training solutions to the insurance sector, Searchlight offers a variety of management and leadership-based skills training courses, with workshops running throughout the year. These sessions are specifically designed to equip the business leaders of today, with the knowledge, skills and techniques they need in order to improve their management skills and become and effective leaders.

Our online webinars and face-to-face training sessions are also great way for managers, team leaders and new employees alike, to develop, deliver and monitor their training strategy. To find out more about our training offerings, visit our website at or email us at


About Author

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Nikki Bennett is Director at Searchlight Insurance Training. Searchlight works with more than 50 specialist trainers with hands-on insurance experience to deliver more than 1,000 training days per year. We offer an unmatched range of face-to-face and e-learning resources across the full spectrum of technical insurance skills and business skills training.

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