Difficult Conversations – S&PA Professional, Autumn Issue

Few people are comfortable addressing problems directly but sweeping things under the carpet will create bigger issues in the long run. Alexandra Efthymiades offers a beginners’ guide to handling tricky discussions.


Whether it’s a gym manager who has to discipline a junior member of staff or a trainer who needs to raise a sensitive issue with a client, difficult conversations are an inevitable part of working life.

But, as a workplace mediator, I know all too well that most people shy away from having these discussions, often because they don’t like conflict and lack confidence. This means that issues are left to fester and grow until they become so serious that they can no longer be ignored, which in turn makes them much more difficult to deal with.


This leads directly to the first rule of difficult conversations: don’t put them off. If you don’t nip problems in the bud, they will continue to grow, turning a relatively small issue – such as a client who regularly cancels sessions last minute, or an employee who does not complete projects on time – into a potentially very serious concern that will take much more time and eff ort to manage at a later stage.

It can even mean that a relatively straightforward people management W issue turns into a formal complaint to human resources or, at its most extreme, a legal claim.

Under those circumstances there are doubtless many managers who look back and, with hindsight, wish that they had overcome their discomfort with difficult conversations much earlier.

The good news is that the ability to have these conversations is a skill that can be learnt. In fact, practising them in a training room is an effective way of learning different techniques and discovering those you find most effective.

Here are some tips that managers should keep in mind the next time a tricky discussion becomes necessary:

Prepare Think about what you want to say to the other person, how you want to come across, and what you would like to know about them.

Give and take Remember that this is a two-way process and that engaging in a conversation means that you and the other person will have the opportunity to understand each other better.

Be open Go into the conversation with an open mind. Your perception of what the other person is doing and why they are doing it is just that – a perception.

Question Ask questions to understand how the other person sees the situation and be open to finding out what is going on.

Listen Pay active attention to the other person – don’t just talk.

Empathise It is likely that this situation is also difficult for them. Remember that there are always two or more sides to a story and that you are not always right.

Compromise Look for a resolution that incorporates both your and the other person’s ideas. Don’t impose your own agenda or solutions to the situation. The best resolutions are always the ones that incorporate everyone’s ideas.

Click here to view a PDF of the article.

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