Navigating Difficult Conversations and Conflicts in the Workplace

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Is your leadership team apprehensive when it comes to navigating difficult conversations in the workplace? They’re not alone.

Read on to get tips for managers talking to employees during candid conversations.

What’s Considered a Candid Conversation in the Workplace?

Are you or your leaders struggling with how to approach a missed deadline on a project or task, a breakdown in communication between team members, personality differences, or a performance conflict? Knowing how to handle candid conversations in the workplace ensures that your employees feel heard and valued, and your managers are leading a successful, productive team. 

Why Is It Important to Consider Your Approach to Candid Conversations?

If you or your leaders avoid candid conversations or, worse yet—hold them poorly, valuable employees will likely leave, or you may end up with an accidental culture that you don’t want. 

How Do Your Leaders Approach Candid Conversations?

According to Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, there are four behaviors that managers fall into when having candid conversations regarding employee feedback:


  1. Obnoxious Aggression is when managers challenge employees directly without showing they care about the individuals personally. 
  2. Ruinous Empathy is when managers care for individuals personally but fail to challenge employees directly. 
  3. Manipulative Insincerity is when managers are insincere to a person’s face, and their criticism is harsh behind a person’s back.
  4. Radical Candor is a behavior that shows managers care personally, while also challenging employees directly with clear, kind feedback.


The first three, obnoxious aggression, ruinous empathy, and manipulative insincerity should be avoided when facing candid conversations with employees. The best way to manage your team, Scott says, is with Radical Candor, a leadership style that combines clear, candid feedback with genuine care and concern for the individuals on the team.

How to Use Radical Candor to Navigate Difficult Conversations

With so many different personalities in the workplace, conflicts are inevitable. Here are some tips to being radically candid during tough conversations:

Stay Calm and Professional

Take a few deep breaths and focus on the moment to help you remain calm and professional. It’s natural to feel emotional or defensive, but it’s important to avoid letting your emotions take over. By keeping composure during difficult conversations, you can ensure that the discussion is productive and focused on the issue at hand. 

Listen Actively

Nobody wants to do a bad job—people aren’t naturally stupid or lazy, so don’t assume that’s the issue. Instead, use active listening skills. Rather than waiting for your turn to talk or quickly forming an opinion, take the time to listen and understand the other person’s perspective. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and don’t get distracted by your own thoughts. You should also ask open-ended questions to help avoid making assumptions. Show your listening by nodding and looking at the person in the eye.

Communicate Clearly

During difficult conversations, to ensure you communicate your message in the most effective way possible, be concise and direct in what you say. Avoid using complex technical terms or jargon that may create unnecessary confusion. Instead, stick to what you know to be true. Also, be mindful of your tone and body language. Nonverbal cues can be just as important as what you say and have a significant impact on how your message is received. 

Focus on Facts and a Solution

One great way to make candid conversations effective is to concentrate on the issue at hand rather than finding fault or assigning blame. By focusing on the facts, you can take the focus off the person and come to a resolution that works for everyone. Brainstorm ideas together and work collaboratively to find a solution that works for you and the employee. 

Take Responsibility

In any conflict or difficult conversation, ask yourself: “Did I contribute to this situation in any way?” 


If the answer is yes, take responsibility for your actions and admit your part in it. It’s human nature to point fingers and blame others for problems that arise, but you can instead show your willingness to work toward a solution. Taking responsibility can help build trust and accountability on your team. If necessary, you should also apologize. It shows you’re acknowledging your role in the conflict, as well as your willingness to move forward toward a resolution. 

Seek Mediation

When faced with a difficult conversation or conflict, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Mediation is a great way to find a resolution that works for both parties by involving a neutral third party, such as another manager or HR person. As business coaches, we often fulfill the role of mediatorThe mediator helps keep the conversation on track and ensure that both sides feel heard. During a mediated conversation, make sure you’re willing to listen to the other side, understand their point of view, and express your feelings in a respectful way. 

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Navigate Difficult Conversations With Business Coaching Services

At Inspire Results Business Coaching, we help leaders assess and navigate difficult conversations. With our business coaching services, we provide guidance and advice on how to approach candid conversations and maximize their effectiveness. Our resources and support empower you to identify goals, create an agenda, and develop a plan for responding to objections. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your leadership team navigate difficult conversations in the workplace. 

Inspire Results Business Coaching

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