3 essential things you need to help you ace a difficult conversation

I work with a lot of managers who want advice and support around having a difficult conversation.

In this post, I’ll share with you the really simple formula that I share with my management clients. This is guaranteed to minimise any fear you might have and ultimately, help you ace the conversation.

The formula:

Right Mindset + Right Place + Right Time = A Respectful + Honest Conversation (Not a Confrontation)



…is about ensuring you are calm and collected. I always advise managers to block time out immediately before and after a difficult conversation. There is nothing worse than having back-to-back meetings, with no space to collect your thoughts.

All it takes is the previous meeting to be a nightmare and you’re guaranteed to walk in to the difficult conversation hot, bothered and in all likelihood giving the other person an ear bashing.

This is how things escalate.

So, do yourself and the other person a favour. Take some time out before and after the meeting.

The other thing that can help is practicing out loud what you want to say in the meeting. Lots of managers I’ve worked with have said this is, without a doubt, the thing that’s helped them most. You can do this on your own but I’d advise you get a peer (or failing that, a friend or family member) to play the role of the receiver. They can then give you some feedback on your tone, attitude, words used etc.


…is about having the location. I’ve known managers berate and swear at staff in an open-plan office.  Aside from the fact that shouting and swearing really isn’t on, it’s also embarrassing for the employee concerned (and likely to get their back up) and it can seriously lower morale across the wider team.

Do. Not. Do. This. Ever.

In most instances, a private space is best. So book a meeting room if you need to.

On occasion, it can be more powerful to get out of the office. Going to a local park or coffee shop are spaces that I know other managers have used to great effect.

The point is – think about the place.


…is the third element of the equation. You’ve heard the phrase, “Strike whilst the iron’s hot”? Well, that kind of applies here in that you need to give feedback as soon as possible after an event or situation has occurred. The longer you leave it, the less relevant it becomes.

The other thing is ensuring you book a time that works for both of you. I’ve known some managers book a meeting at the end of the day, forgetting the fact that the other person had to pick up their kids from the child minder, or take a parent for a hospital appointment. So, agree a time that works for both of you.

I hope you found this post useful. Let me know if you use the approach outlined and if so, how you get on.


Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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