Managing Difficult Conversations at Work – 6 Strategies to Avoid Conflict

Julia ngapo Bsiness coaching - Managing difficult conversations

No matter how strongly you try and avoid workplace conflict, there comes a time for most business owners when difficult conversations become the only option.

We often try to avoid them, fearing that we may make a difficult situation worse, or that we may say the wrong thing, causing an already awkward conversation to escalate out of control. We fear that a difficult conversation may damage our relationships or our work environment.

We don’t want to be labeled as “the troublemaker”, so avoid conflict whenever possible.

But difficult conversations are a necessary part of working with others and for those new to leadership or management, are often a necessary part of the role.

However, difficult conversations are not restricted to team management and performance but can also occur between client and organisation. Take, for example, a conversation informing the client that a project has been delayed or that a mistake has been made.

Of course, many of us have experienced conversations in the past that perhaps haven’t gone to plan and hold on to that negative experience, believing that all challenging conversations must, therefore, follow the same direction.

But difficult conversations don’t have to be combative here are my six tips on how to handle a difficult conversation at work. (And for my free workbook on managing difficult conversations, click here)

Plan the conversation.

Although you don’t want any difficult conversation to appear scripted, it can be really valuable to create notes around what you want to say and how you’re going to frame it before the conversation takes place. This allows you to be flexible around the direction the conversation takes, giving your counterpart time and space to express their thoughts and feelings, whilst ensuring you still get your points across. Ensure any language you use is simple, clear, direct, and also neutral.

Be objective.

Badly managed, a difficult conversation can turn into a combative one. It’s therefore vital that, where possible, you adopt an objective view, acknowledging your counterpart’s perspective and listening to their answers and explanations. When you actively listen to your counterpart, you demonstrate that this is not personal and have a genuine interest in their point of view.
Compassion and empathy are two key skills that should be incorporated into any difficult conversation at work. When speaking to an employee, it may be that person has difficulties at home, has mental health challenges, or other issues that you know nothing of, so give them time and space to be heard without judgment. Ensure the conversation is focused purely on facts and not emotions. if you can separate what you know from what you think you know or feel, then there is less risk of assumption or projection.

Collaborate to find a solution.

It is important to remember that your approach to any difficult conversation should be to find a solution. By keeping this in mind, you can frame the conversation as collaborative, and a chance for feedback, rather than combative. After all, you’re likely to have to continue working with your counterpart after the conversation, so it makes sense that any conversation is viewed as a two-way thing, where both sides can talk from their perspective, can hear the other person, and reach an agreement through brainstorming a solution together.

Managing difficult conversations at work – Conclusion

Whilst difficult conversations are never pleasant, they are an inevitable part of business life. The key to effectiveness lies in ensuring you approach any challenging conversation with the correct mindset, having in focus that you are dealing with another person, another individual, who has their own perspective on things. When you approach any difficult conversation with honesty, integrity, and compassion, then there are real opportunities for positive conclusions.

If you are facing the prospect of a difficult or challenging conversation at work and would welcome some support in navigating the discussion through to a positive conclusion then why not download my free workbook, “Handling the Challenge: Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.”

This workbook provides you with:
· A framework to help you not only take control but adopt the best approach to ensure a constructive conversation, instead of a combative one.
· Tips for structuring the conversation effectively.
· Suggested coaching tools that may support you in ensuring the best possible outcome.
· Suggestions for conversational openings.

Download your copy HERE!

Crisis Marketing – How to Create Content in Challenging Times

Crisis Marketing - Rainy clouds over field - Julia Ngapo Business Coaching

What on earth can I say?” has never been more of an issue than in recent years. First, there was the challenge that Covid presented – Could we and should we continue promoting our businesses when so many others were suffering? – and now, of course, we face the upheaval of the Queen’s passing, as the nation adjusts to a new era. 

So is it better to just remain silent, or should we carry on regardless with that stiff upper lip that we Brits are famed for?

There is that feeling of awkwardness present, of what can we say that will support, whilst not appearing insensitive? How can we continue to run our business, whilst being cognisant of others’ feelings and challenges?

Here are my top 5 tips on getting your crisis marketing content right.

1. Pause the scheduler

Many of us rely on scheduling tools to get our marketing messages out there.  However, how many of us, when we prepare and schedule content a week or two in advance, can remember exactly what we have scheduled?  Pause that scheduler now!  The most innocent of articles and posts may appear in a different light during a crisis. Instead, just talk to your audience as one human to another.  Any challenge offers an opportunity to connect with our audience on a much more person-to-person level; a shared experience, and to build a sense of community around the shared emotions of the situation.

2. Don’t ignore the situation

Following on from the previous point, when challenges strike on a national or even global scale, many of us will have the feeling, “I don’t want to bring my audience down”. But remember that marketing and in particular, social media, is never about you! 

It’s about the wants and needs of your target audience.  What do they need to hear from you right now?  It could be that’s the reassurance of “Business as usual”, it could be some appropriate feel-good posts. Only you know your audience but concentrate on content that is reassuring, or that creates a feeling of optimism.

3. Show Empathy

Whilst empathy should always be a part of your marketing, it becomes even more important during crisis marketing. Ask yourself what you would like to see content-wise from the brands you follow. What language or style of content would you feel insensitive and inappropriate? And then use this as a guide for your own strategy.

4. Don’t be afraid to sell

The selling of products or services online may feel inappropriate during times of hardship.  However, this is not about “profiteering”, this is about not only providing the goods and services that people want and need but about keeping businesses, together with all those who rely on that business, afloat.  Remember that only 20% of your overall marketing should be promotional, anyway, so providing you handle any promotional opportunity with appropriate language and transparency, then continue in whatever manner feels right to you.

In addition, ensure you keep your audience informed of any changes in business operating hours, or anything else affecting your processes or customer experience.

5. Communication is key

Ensure that any short-term change in your strategy is communicated throughout your organisation. It is vital that everyone knows how your crisis marketing will work; what to say and how to say it so as to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.


Yes, times are challenging, but people are still spending money. It’s about reframing our thinking and delivering what our audience wants in a slightly different way, perhaps.  Above all, concentrate on the value you can bring to your audience.  That could be with a free offering, but it could, equally, be the reassurance of “being there” still, of continuing to tell your story and demonstrating in some small way that life is carrying on and normal services will resume shortly.

If you would like support to navigate the challenges that your business faces on a day-to-day level, then why not book a call? I have worked with many business owners and leaders, offering business and executive coaching and mentoring and supporting them to improve performance, both for themselves and their team, reduce overwhelm, increase clarity around their business direction, and remove the mindset blocks that hamper their progress. Book your call today.