Regardless of how nurturing a workplace culture may be or how great your relationships with whom you work, inevitably there will be a need for a difficult conversation.  These are conversations holding high stakes, regarding sensitive issues, with uncertain outcomes, and potentially emotionally charged.  These conversations make all involved feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  Spurring these conversations are a range of issues that may include seeking a pay raise, needing to deliver bad news, providing feedback on poor work performance, getting someone to modify or cease an inappropriate behavior, or resolving conflict.  Avoiding the conversations only makes the situation worse, so is not an option. The conversation must be had.  Fortunately, recent research identified three strategies for making these conversations more successful (Bradle, & Campbell. 2016).

In a series of studies, researchers surveyed, completed in-depth interviews, and conducted an experimental protocol with 24 healthcare managers. Together, these three studies found successful outcomes from difficult workplace conversations when the managers used one or more of the following strategies.

  1. Balanced task and relational goals during the conversation. In other words, were as concerned with maintaining their relationship as they were with the task or issue to be resolved.
  2. Exhibited understanding, concern, and empathy for the opinions, perspective, and feelings of the person with whom they were having the conversation.
  3. Offered face-giving opportunities. To do so, they respected the dignity of the other and recognized they were equal partners in constructing a workable and satisfying solution to the issue.   


Bradle, G.,  & Campbell. A. (2016).  Managing difficult workplace conversations: Goals, strategies, and outcomes. International Journal of Business Communication, 53(4) 443–464.