Managing Difficult Conversations

This article looks at two basic but effective techniques that you can use to support that difficult conversation that you need to have with your member of staff.

There is an art to managing difficult conversations and dealing with issues of conflict.  Whether the difficult conversation is with a customer or a member of staff, the objective is always to achieve the right outcome – an outcome that moves the situation on positively for both parties.

Before the greater complexities of this skills are considered; for example, how to negotiate and verbalise what you want to say, it is best to master the simple skills first.  Although they are simple, failure to follow these two rules is likely to lead to a poor outcome.


Get them to sit down.

Every species in the animal kingdom will always attempt to make itself as large as possible before going into conflict. The intimidation your ‘bigger’ posture brings, will also be accompanied by a faster pulse and rising blood pressure – you are ready to fight!

You try having an argument whilst you are sitting down; your whole body will be screaming at you to stand up!

Equally, the reverse is true. Making yourself and the other person ‘smaller’ will achieve the opposite. Heart rate will slow, blood pressure will drop and muscles relax. Once you are both in this position, it is far easier to conduct a calm, rational, adult conversation, discussing the challenge and looking for a positive solution.


So how do you get an angry person to sit down?

Sit down yourself.

When two people engage in conversation, their bodies start to naturally ‘mirror’ each other. We feel more comfortable holding a conversation with somebody if our eyes are at a similar height.  Therefore, if one party sits down, the other will feel a natural urge themselves to sit down, simply because of the desire to level the height difference between their eyes.

Invite them to sit down.

We respond well to gestures of kindness and polite invitations.  In fact, it feels quite hostile to refuse a polite invitation without a very good reason to do so.  You may wish to support your verbal invitation with a hand gesture also, in effect, influencing them with both verbal and physical encouragement.

The Double Whammy!

Best advice however, is to go for the ‘double whammy!’

Invite them to take a seat with your hand gesture, whilst at the same time start taking a seat yourself. The ‘Double Whammy’ is just about irresistible!

You are then mentally and physically in a position to conduct a rational conversation about the difficulty that needs to be discussed.


Personal Space

The amount of personal space we require in order to feel comfortable before we engage in deep conversation varies, and is influenced by three factors.

The other person

The person you are about to communicate with. The other person’s ‘attractiveness’ or perhaps more accurately, their ‘unattractiveness’ will influence how close you want to be to them. Their personal hygiene being the obvious factor.

The environment

The environment you are in. If you are sitting on an empty bus and a total stranger gets on the bus at the next stop, where would you like them to sit?! Probably no where near you and certainly not on the chair next to you!  Yet if the bus were 95% full when they got on, you wouldn’t think twice about them sitting in the one spare seat next to you.


Your own tactility. Some people are naturally ‘touchy feely’ and some are certainly not! We all know somebody who feels the need to touch your arm when in conversation or rub shoulders with you when you walk.  Equally, however, there are just as many people who will make a conscious effort to avoid this close proximity.


Before engaging in a difficult conversation with somebody, it is vitally important that you show respect for their personal space requirement and also you assert your right to your own requirement. This is easily achieved, either through you subtly repositioning yourself physically or if comfortable, simply asking for more space.  Since COVID, has become a lot more easier to do!

Managing difficult conversations correctly will ultimately benefit your business.

Here at Unlock Staff Potential, we are committed to supporting and training your staff to ensure they have the appropriate skills to help your business flourish. Contact us for a bespoke training quotation.