Talking about difficult issues

Be absolutely clear in your own mind about the message. Know what you are asking for and why. Why is it important and why now?

Talking about difficult issues

Talking about difficult issues is a challenge that all managers have to face. And sometimes away from work, hard things need to be said to friends and family. For some people it can feel really difficult to do. Here is some advice on how to do it well.

Talking to people about difficult issues is best done after careful thought and preparation. At home, you might want to talk to a partner about a change in your relationship. At work, it might be about negotiating a pay rise or dealing with a difficult colleague. Wherever you need to talk about a difficult issue, knowing how to prepare gives you a better chance of success.

Timing is critical

Raising a difficult issue is never easy but there are better and worse times to do it. If you know the person is dealing already with difficult things, it might be better to postpone if you can. At least, try to choose the best time in the day for them. We all have times when we are at our best. Don’t choose the morning for a night owl. Try never to talk about difficult things before your listener has had breakfast, or at least a coffee. In fact, don’t choose any time when they are likely to be hungry.

Speaking at a time when they are preparing for an important event, about to rush off to a meeting or watching their favorite television program, is not going to get you their best attention. Try to find an island of calm in their day, then speak to them in a quiet and private space.

Know what you want to say

Be absolutely clear in your own mind about the message. Know what you are asking for and why. Why is it important and why now? How does this fit in with everything else going on around them? Who is going to be affected most by what you say and in what way? How would you like your listener to respond? What would you like them to do next?

Get your information together beforehand.

Research the subject you want to discuss. Make sure you have all the facts or at least as many as possible. Be sure you know exactly what will be involved for them in meeting your request or receiving your news. Make sure you are clear about why it is worth them making a change. Have the evidence to support what you are going to say. How are they going to feel when they hear your news? If it is going to cause them pain, how can you keep that pain to a minimum?Prepare to make your case

If it is appropriate, be ready to show why the change will benefit the other person as well as you. Can you highlight how changes like this have been beneficial in the past? How will you show the evidence and anything that will support what you are going to say? Choose the words you will use carefully and practice saying them. Imagine a positive outcome as you practice.

Be ready for the discussion

Think about the possible responses and how you will handle them. Be ready to be flexible; what changes are you prepared to make to your request? Think of solutions that will suit both of you. Be clear about what you want and why it makes sense. Know what is not negotiable.

Be ready to listen at least as much as you speak during your encounter. Listen carefully, watch their body language and prepare for your flexible response.

Each situation is different

Each situation is different and, however much you prepare, you may need time to consider their response. Be prepared to take time out. Whatever their response, don’t get angry or upset. Try to stay in control of the situation. The person needs to know this is important but don’t over react. Work on keeping options open and the relationship intact.

With careful preparation and consideration for the other person, you will achieve the best possible outcome from your discussion of that difficult issue.

Working with a coach really can help you develop good relationships. Get in touch at the email address below – I offer a free half hour trial session by phone or Skype.
Wendy Smith, Career, life and Business Coach

Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in organisational development, management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at

Wendy has written a little eBook on how to get on with your boss and a book on job search – you can find all her books on Amazon at this link