How To Manage Difficult Conversations At Work

In many cases difficult conversations rarely get a chance to happen. Instead, we spend days, weeks, even years telling ourselves (and perhaps our unfortunate partners at home), stories about how rude, inappropriate, unhelpful and/or arrogant some people are. We rarely have the conversation with the person or people we are having difficulty with. We bring our own preconceptions to the events and don’t even get close to finding a viable solution. So… does the challenge get resolved? No… like a coffee maker, our stories keep perking – getting stronger and more bitter as time goes by.

Difficult Conversations Perk

Presto© Coffee Perk

Note for clarification: Firing someone isn’t a difficult conversation. Having a difficult conversation often starts uncomfortable but usually leads to quickly working with someone to help you and them understand a disruptive situation and correct it.

Lets face it – in a heated moment we all tell ourselves stories. What matters is how long we allow ourselves to be ‘stuck’ telling our stories. Your stories likely sound something like:

¤  She did ABC because she just knew I wanted XYZ.
¤  It’s like he thinks none of us know what we are doing.
¤  He always interrupts us because he doesn’t value our ideas.

If we do nothing we don’t find solutions. Instead we tell stories that build walls and increase stress while also degrading the quality creativity and productivity of our work environments. And if we keep it up, we may even put our employment status at risk.

Of course, while these negative stories go on and on, the person who is challenging us often knows nothing of our internal struggle. Until we talk to the person who is challenging us, we stay frustrated but we do not know their true motivation and beliefs – we only know our (biased), guess of Why the problem happened.

How To Quit Telling Yourself Difficult Stories And Start Having Difficult Conversations

  1. Most importantly, reclaim space and authority to build community. Take back your power to do something good… even though it may be difficult. I bet, 9 times out of 10 it will get better… and it is certainly better than you telling yourself difficult stories for months or years on end.
  2. Realize when you are telling difficult stories.
  3. Know that our subconscious often adds fuel to the fire; what we feel we make real. We may even subconsciously do or say things that promote a behavour. If you think your challenger will be:

¤  Creative – he will be creative “Wow Bruce, that is a great fresh approach.”
¤  Arrogant – she will be arrogant. “Yvette is such a know-it-all.”
¤  Rude – you will see examples of rudeness.
¤  Dismissive – you will feel you are being disrespected and dismissed.

  1. Show emotion but don’t be emotional. Tap into your empathy and that of the other person / people, “I’m feeling uncomfortable about something that happened yesterday but I feel it’s important we discuss it so I understand it better. Do you have some time now?”
  2. Explore WHAT someone did – not WHY. Stories that focus on Why is a path that often leads to blame (and the Dark Side for Star Wars fans). And if we haven’t spoken with anyone, our stories about WHY are also speculation which is dangerous and not helpful. Consider, they may not have even noticed they did XYZ.
  3. Let’s consider a situation at work when someone did something inappropriate / against policy. If someone does something outside of work boundaries then it needs to be addressed – not because someone is rude, disrespectful or mean… but because WHAT they did is inappropriate. Inappropriate behaviour must change in order to support a trusting, creative, collaborative environment. And while the conversation may be uncomfortable… even difficult conversation… in the majority of time it doesn’t need to get heated… in my experience.
  4. On rare occasions – do nothing. If it happens once, then sure – you may choose to let it slide… but if it is behavior that repeats, it should be discussed ASAP for the harmony of the team.

If you don’t manage difficult conversations, what are your options?

¤  Do nothing and keep being stressed
¤  Wait until you have had enough, lose your temper and yell at them.
¤  Continue to complain to all your coworkers and your partner

They don’t sound like great options. I recommend having a calm conversation where you share your observations and how those actions make you feel. I’d say something like, “When we are in meetings I feel you often interrupt me when I’m speaking. It makes me feel like you don’t value what I have to say. I wanted check in with you and see if you noticed and what might be happening.” This should start a helpful, respectful, calm conversation.

In conflict situations, you decide how you are going to respond when something doesn’t go your way. Be conscious to Feed Positive Energy – not the negative energy. Elevate the conversation. As we see Michelle Obama saying in this Youtube video, “When they go low, we go high.”

Before difficult situations even happen, choose how you want to act. Who do you want to be in a difficult relationship? Do you want to be the person who shuts down, the person who screams or the person who moves on? OR, do you want to be the manager that deals with the situation?

Instead of generating a negative conversation, elevate the conversation – add positive energy to the conversation and your feedback. Take control of how you act – how you feel – what you own. Ask yourself:

¤  When I think someone is Rude, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Selfish, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Unsupportive, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Aggressive, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Taking More Than Their Share, How do I act?


More hate doesn’t beat someone else’s hate; more rudeness doesn’t beat someone else’s rudeness – they just breed more hate, rudeness and frustration.  The only thing that can beat negativity is respect and talking about it.  It doesn’t always fix the problem, but if you start showing respect and listening to the person who shows you hate, rudeness or frustration,  eventually everyone will see them as being the A$$#!*& – not you. Your reputation will improve. Theirs… not so much.

It is amazing what happens when you build trust / build respect between parties. With a base of trust two people could discuss and try a proposed solution quickly vs. discuss and debate it for hours or days. The beauty is that if you try you would both be able to quickly evaluate what worked / didn’t work and perhaps how to improve.  

If we keep telling ourselves difficult stories we will never find a mutually beneficial / satisfactory solution and office productivity and morale will go down as our stress levels go up. Having difficult conversations is far better better.

Happy communicating… mentoring… and training.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting is an Executive Coach who facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Generational Differences, Time Management, Leadership and Mindfulness.

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How To Avoid Drowsiness At Work

I’ve been writing a lot about Millennials in the workplace lately so have felt a pull to write again about Time Management. A training program I recently facilitated provided me the perfect topic. I was asked ‘How To Avoid Drowsiness At Work’.  A great question!

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We’ve all felt drowsy – heavy eyes take over.  If you’re lucky nobody noticed.  If you’re unlucky you were with your senior management team, boss… or client.

Working efficiently and prioritizing your important work over your busy work are some of the best Time Management best practices I teach… but you have to be awake.  Your best intentions can be undermined by something stubbornly insistent as drowsiness… or worse… actually falling asleep at your desk.

So, let’s look at how to avoid drowsiness at work to improve your time management and productivity.

How To Avoid Drowsiness At Work:

  1. There are many foods and beverages that spike your energy and unfortunately leave you feeling sleepy shortly after. You likely know which ones impact you (pasta is my enemy). We all react differently however the most common are sugar (including breads, muffins, donuts, pasta etc.), alcohol (gone are the Mad Men days), and caffeine (coffee and most teas). Green tea is great alternative because it doesn’t cause drowsiness but does have a natural calming effect and supports relaxation during times of stress.
  2. How much water have you drank? Coffee, tea and sugary drinks don’t count. Drowsiness and a short attention span can be a sign of dehydration. A study from Tufts University found that even mild dehydration will impair your cognition and energy. Generally men should drink up to 13 cups, women up to 9 cups.
  3. Here’s one I bet you haven’t heard. Get a good night sleep. Whether it’s your old mattress or all the negativity of the nightly news that’s keeping you up, try to work this out. 8 solid hours should be your target… so work your schedule backwards. For me that means hitting the sack around 9:30PM.
    You might think “there’s no way I’d be able to fall asleep at 9:30″. I bet if you have a regular – daily schedule of getting up before 5:30AM and hitting the gym you’ll have little problem getting to sleep.
  4. Have a healthy, low-fat breakfast every morning. Focus on fruit, low-fat dairy products (Greek yogurt is terrific), hard-boiled eggs and unprocessed grains.
  5. A quick exercise program can boost your energy levels rather than deplete them. When you work out your body responds by building strength and endurance. This energy is then used all through the day… but note, with exercise, getting enough sleep becomes even more important.
  6. What You Can Eat And Drink To Avoid Drowsiness At Work:

    Free image courtesy of

    Free image courtesy of

    • Salads and dark vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers and beets. Kale is a versatile veggie that is gaining popularity and can be used to make salads, stews and even chips.
    • Hemp seeds contain omega-3 fats and provide long sustaining energy. They’re great on salads, in smoothies and in cereal.Quinoa is a great choice for anyone who is looking to build or maintain muscle. It’s a grain that is contains essential amino acids has a high-protein content.
    • Coconut water and coconut oil instead of high-fructose energy drinks. 
Coconut water will naturally replenish your body with much-needed electrolytes and a quick source of energy.
    • Honey is also a wonderful energy booster because it’s a natural source of sugar and calories in comparison to high-fructose energy drinks that cost so much more. Honey is easy to absorb, is loaded with enzymes as well as antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Put just in a bit of water with lemon or your tea, and your mom will tell you it’s good to sooth sore throats.
    • Ginseng or licorice (not the candy store kind), can increase energy and vitality — especially if the cause of your drowsiness is stress.  For these, ask your Naturopath and pick them up at your local health food store.


In the end, I’m all in for getting expert information – so visiting your Naturopath is a great idea. When I began seeing my Naturopath Dr. Amanda Guthrie she helped me fine-tune my diet to benefit my health and active lifestyle. They can look at your personal situation and help you tailor a nutrition / exercise routine that is best for you.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

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You Need Stress – Really!

Ramblings of a Psychologist

By Dr. Scott Duggan

You Need Stress – Really!

Stress seems to be everywhere these days. People are stressed about their job, their family, friends, the economy. Everything seems to cause stress – so what in the world is it good for? Well, everything in moderation. If your stress level is too low, you won’t perform well due to lack of stimulation, but with too much stress, performance at home or at work degrades due to anxiety. This phenomenon is so prolific that it actually has a name. It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law says there is an optimal amount of stress that is helpful in motivating us to do things as opposed to sleep (minimal stress), or lack of alertness. But once that optimal level of stress has been reached, any more stress causes anxiety, disorganization (mentally and often in the work space), and lower performance.

Stress Performance Connection

Think of a practical example. If you had to give a speech, and you were very stressed out about it, you would likely stammer and pause, maybe get flustered, lose your place and maybe even panic looking into the crowd. However, if you didn’t have any stress, then you wouldn’t spend the time properly preparing your speech, practicing it so that you know it well, or even trying to deliver it in an eloquent manner. The optimal amount of stress helps you concentrate on writing a great speech. It also helps you to want to rehearse it until you were comfortable with it. Finally, it would help you deliver it fully alert, but not anxious.

Many, I realize are under too much stress. Maybe giving a speech just isn’t your thing. Actually, research shows that people fear public speaking more than death! Maybe the stress you face is a conflict with a co-worker, or worse, your boss, or simply having too much work to do. Maybe you are worrying about some issues with your kids? Or tensions you’ve been having with your spouse? If so, although you have to make sure your stress level doesn’t soar off the chart, optimal stress is something we all need. Trust me, years and years of research on this does not lie.

So if you have too much stress in your life, how do you get it down and keep it to the optimal place so that you don’t reach a crisis position, such as quitting your job in anger, or breaking up with your partner? It is often helpful to learn self-care. Self-care refers to looking after yourself first. In many of the long distance flights, the flight attendants did, or at least used to tell you that if the oxygen masks drop to put your own on first. This is because without taking care of yourself, you may be able to help a couple people but then someone likely has to help you. If you put your own mask on first, you can help many more people.

Great analogy, but in real life, it is a bit more difficult. One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to learn personal boundaries and how to protect them. Sometimes this means saying “no” when asked to volunteer for yet another project, or taking a break from the gym or simply by making sure you do things that you like in you free time.

A great way to get started with this is to seek personal counselling from a trained professional who counsels in this way. They can be motivating, informative and helpful.

You can visit Dr. Scott Duggan’s website at

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