How To Deal With Difficult Conversations with Grace

Smoothly Navigate Tough Talks With Ease

Communicate Effectively

Learn strategies for challenging discussions, active listening, empathy, and clear communication.

Navigating Disagreements

Develop constructive disagreement management techniques, foster open dialogue, and find common ground.

Stronger Relationships

Learn using difficult conversations to strengthen relationships, fostering understanding, trust, cooperation.

Refine your communication skills by learning to harness your emotional intelligence with one of the UK's most acclaimed management training courses.

Why Choose This Training?

More Than Just A Course Of Lectures

What gets in the way of developing and holding on to new communication skills are old habits of thinking and speaking. Even if the advice is very good the reason why it rarely sticks are the mental habits people inevitably revert to, especially under pressure.

Unlearning those old habits and internalising a more effective and lasting approach to communication needs more than a short course of lectures on how to do it.

What Makes This Training Stand Out?

What makes this training stand out is the exceptional support through one-to-one coaching sessions and continuous feedback. Changing behaviour is not an easy task as old habits are hard to break.

With a 40-year track record we can help you cultivate practical skills, and build your confidence to so you can successfully navigate real-world challenges, ensuring lasting behavioural improvements.


Join thousands of participants getting results

"What I love about this course is that I didn't just learn about the topic, this course is about ME.  I'm confident I can reliably use my new skills, even when under pressure".

5 stars

A Project Manager At A Tech Company

"A lesson for life! The power of effective communication is incredible when one masters the skills "listening with empathy" and "speaking assertively"

5 stars

A Project Quality Engineer

Clients We Have Worked With

Well-known companies who have used this course again and again, over many years

  • Amgen 3
  • BBC
  • aunt bessies
  • Cargill 2
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  • Civil service
  • NHS 2
  • Kelloggs Logo 2
  • IGT
  • JM 4 copy
  • Schweppes 3 logo
  • Castrol 3
  • Dewhirst 2
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  • Nestle Logo
  • RSPB Logo 2022
  • Shell
  • UNHCR 3
  • unilever 2
  • BP 2
  • FBN 2

Course Summary

Training Objectives

  • This course is designed to help you develop your ability to help you deal with difficult conversations with grace and easeDo you dread those conversations when tough topics come up? Difficult conversations are often emotionally charged and can be hard to navigate. But having the ability to handle difficult talks with grace and ease can help maintain or even improve relationships.
  • This training course will provide practical tips for having successful, meaningful, and graceful difficult conversations with your employees, clients, colleagues, family members and even strangers. From understanding the importance of using collaboration for communication to learning how to stay composed under pressure in order to achieve a positive outcome. Here are all the tools necessary in leading successful discussions.
  • You’ll learn how to establish a collaborative approach when having difficult conversations to foster understanding and trust between both parties, facilitating the search for common solutions.
  • You’ll learn how to utilise active listening with empathy, and the important for gaining insight into another person's perspective while expressing your own feelings respectfully without any judgement or interruption.
  • You’ll be able to prepare ahead of time. By planning how to express yourself assertively rather than aggressively you’ll ensure that respect is given even if the discussion becomes emotionally charged at times.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

You will learn a set of powerful emotional intelligence communication techniques so that you can manage difficult conversations, handle challenging situations, build relationships and set firm boundaries.

Transferable Skills

The goal of this training is to equip you with the tools they need to build strong, lasting relationships in your professional life, although because these skills are so transferable many clients report vast improvements in their personal relationships as well.

Develop Skills

This is a skills development rather than just a theoretical programme, so the emphasis throughout will be on you taking turn after turn, practising your skills, while receiving feedback and coaching about your effect on others.

Repeated Practice and Feedback

In your coaching sessions you will be helped to practise dealing with the kinds of situation you find challenging, again and again, until you are confident you can do it successfully.

Video Analysis

We'll combine practical, hands-on experience with video replay and analysis and discussion of the principles involved to help you gain both skills and understanding. Special attention is paid to your individual training needs, so you can practise your skills in real-life situations that you have to handle at work.

Sustained Change

That's why as well as your place in a small group, this training includes a generous amount of private and confidential one-to-one coaching sessions online, spread over several months, ensuring an exceptional level of support. This will ensure the changes you make are sustained over a longer period of time and any obstacles are overcome. Choose between online training available worldwide, or in-person face-to-face courses in the UK.

Course Dates and Price

For a list of upcoming course dates (for online coaching and face-to-face training), the locations of the next 3-day public courses in the UK and pricing Click here.

Free Initial Session

This initial coaching session serves as an introduction to the "Skills with People" course, allowing you to understand the course's relevance and effectiveness for your specific needs before committing to it.

Related Topics

We cover different different kinds of conversations. Each page explores a different aspect of how emotional intelligence can help you be more successful.

Each page explores different aspects of how to navigate difficult conversations. We offer specialised training for different aspects of communication and relationship management in professional environments.

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Assertiveness Skills

Strategies for Approaching Difficult Conversations

Ensure to determine the purpose of the conversation in order for it to be successful and effective.

  1. Recognise the other person’s emotional state in order to understand how it could affect the conversation.
  2. Recognise YOUR OWN emotional state in order to understand how it could affect the conversation.
  3. Plan your approach before having a difficult conversation so that you can go into it ensuring that communication will remain clear.

Building Resilience to Stay Calm and Composed

  • In times of pressure and confrontation, many of us may find ourselves struggling to keep our emotions in check. Building resilience is one way to help us stay composed and manage intense conversations effectively.
  • It helps build the mental strength needed to maintain a calm attitude when dealing with difficult people, situations or conversations.
  • One important aspect of developing resilience is learning how to recognise and respond positively when faced with overwhelming emotions or reactions from another person during the conversation.
  • This requires focusing on your mind on listening actively and empathically to the other person.  This will help you remain tune in to the emotional brain and positive intention motivating them (even if it’s become distorted). You’ll then be better able to express yourself more calmly while being mindful of the other person's feelings and motivation.

Collaborative Approach for Effective Communication

  • Adopting a collaborative approach is key for handling difficult conversations and effectively communicating. A collaborative approach allows both of you to share your ideas, feelings, and views in order to come up with the best possible solutions that would benefit both sides.
  • The important aspect of this collaboration is understanding each other’s position while being considerate of each other's view point but without letting any one person dominate the conversation.
  • Collaborative problem solving allows both people to listen as well as provide helpful input, model supportive communication skills like active listening and expressing empathy, and brainstorm ways together that will allow reach an agreement or compromise.
  • Taking a collaborative approach reduces emotional responses by replacing judgmental with respectful comments, ensuring that you both feel respected yet heard throughout the discussion.
  • This helps minimise strong emotions such as blame-based accusations or defensive postures which often arise out of difficult conversations. When this happens it can result in stifling meaningful discussions, which go nowhere from there on out.

Utilising Positive Affirmations and Mantras

  • Positive affirmations and mantras can be extremely beneficial in preparing for, and when actually entering into, difficult conversations with grace. These techniques allow us to manage our emotions so that we can remain calm and composed throughout the conversation.
  • The utilisation of positive thoughts and phrases, like repeating simple statements such as “they are doing the best they can given the limitation of their skills, training, time, budget and other resources”, helps us internalise helpful mindset which supports greater clarity while navigating the complexities of a difficult situation.
  • It is also important to feel relaxed during these conversations so that both parties involved has time to think before responding emotionally instead of reacting automatically. Affirmations give an emotional release prior to entering any intense interpersonal situation where it might be easy adopt a judgmental stance or choose confrontational words from a defensive position due to feeling overwhelmed by fear or anxiety.

Being Mindful of Emotional Contagion

  • It is important to be aware of the phenomenon of emotional contagion. This refers to a situation in which emotions are transferred from one person to another, either consciously or unconsciously.
  • It can have an effect on communication and conversations - especially when those conversations are difficult or challenging. Understanding emotional contagion and its impact can help you handle difficult conversations gracefully.
  • It is important for both people in these discussions to be mindful of their own feelings as well as those of their counterpart, taking note if emotive reactions become contagious between them during the conversation.
  • In order manage and control one's own emotions during these confrontations, it may helpful to take breaks periodically throughout the conversation or practice positive affirmations prior engaging with opponents.
  • Utilising collaborative strategies like active listening with empathy facilitate understanding different perspectives while remaining composed even amidst intense emotions that arise due to disagreements.

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People who feel understood are more receptive

Practical Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations

Utilise active listening techniques such as empathy, accepting the other person's perspective, communicating feelings and desires with assertiveness, breaking away to regroup regularly, respecting differences and agreeing on disagreements where possible, and self-reflecting for self-care.

Active Listening with Empathy

  • Active and empathetic listening are essential skills in any situation where communication is key, particularly difficult conversations. Active listening involves fully listening, and imagining what the other person hasn’t said but is feeling. It is not a traditional conversation which relies on two parties competing to talk.
  • Rather, it requires actively seeking to understand what someone is trying to express without judging or interrupting them. Showing empathy while actively listening further allows us to connect with and gain insight into another person's thoughts and feelings, building better relationships based on trust.
  • Additionally, empathising can offer tremendous psychological comfort. When we acknowledge the other person’s experience (whether we agree with them or not) it give them validation. They’ll enjoy being listened to, and it can transform the atmosphere of a conversation.

Clearly Expressing Feelings and Desires with Assertiveness

  • Assertive communication is key when approaching difficult conversations with grace and ease. This involves expressing thoughts, feelings, and needs in a clear, respectful, and confident manner.
  • It can be hard for many people to communicate in this way as it requires strength of character to stand up for what you believe in while also ensuring that the other person's opinion or perspective is respected.
  • Assertiveness allows you to calmly express your feelings without becoming aggressive or passive-aggressive. When done effectively it increases mutual respect in a conversation, and encourages others to collaborate more productively on resolving misunderstandings or sticky situations.
  • Assertiveness boils down to being true to your own wants and needs while still respecting those of others - an essential skill during intense conversations.
  • Learning how to use assertive language during tough conversations will benefit greatly from some practice beforehand by utilising gentle ways of expressing how strongly you feel about something, e.g. “I am anxious it goes well”, rather than “I am angry with you for getting it wrong”. On this training course we’ll help you practice this before entering into challenging discussions. This helps regulate strong emotions which may otherwise spiral out of control quickly leading one feeling overwhelmed or powerless if allowed unchecked.

Considering the Other Person's Perspective

  • During difficult conversations, it is important to take the time to understand the perspective of the other person. When we try and see things through their eyes, and consider their needs and feelings, you can foster greater compassion for one another and make problem-solving much easier.
  • Additionally, considering the other person's viewpoint can help provide insights into complex issues that weren't previously visible before. This approach leads us to deeper understanding of both our own position as well as those around us, which in turn encourages mutual respect and understanding during disputes or disagreements.
  • Taking a moment to truly articulate how we imagine they are feeling and paying attention to previous words and what they might be trying to say allows us look past differences in order find common ground which could lead successful resolution.

Taking Breaks to Regroup

  • Difficult conversations often require a huge amount of emotional energy, patience and perseverance. It may sometimes help to take breaks when needed. By stepping away from the conversation and giving yourself a chance to collect your thoughts, you can regain an inner composure which helps navigate the conversation with grace.
  • Not only does taking breaks help reduce tension between you and another person, but it also encourages mindful communication by helping focus on both parties' immediate needs, not their tone, during the conversation.
  • When it comes to regrouping during a difficult conversation, opting for deep breathing exercises or engaging in any calming activity like meditation has proven effective in managing intense emotions that may arise.

Accepting Differences and Agreeing to Disagree

  • Difficult conversations can often lead to disagreements, and it is important to be able to cope with those differences while maintaining respect. When both you and the other person can accept each other’s differences and agree to disagree, a difficult conversation will have more of a chance for success.
  • This approach encourages open communication rather than trying to push you own perspective or belief system onto the other person. In doing so, relationships can remain strong without any resentment and misunderstandings from either person.
  • For example, if two work colleagues have different approaches when handling an issue on how best way to handle a situation, it’s important that they acknowledge their differences and try not carry grudges against each other. With compassionate understanding everyone can feel their opinion is at least being heard and understood, even though it might not be the same as another person’s, or even as good.
  • Through learning how adapt this process in our everyday lives at work, we should find fewer issues when engaged in tough negotiation like those which may be experienced within most work environments.

Self-Care and Self-Reflection

  • Self-care and self-reflection are essential tools for managing difficult conversations. The evidence shows that you are much more likely to be successful when you are able to cultivate a mindful state, and can stay composed and connected with the other person during a challenging conversation.
  • Prioritising self-awareness enables you to recognise any intense emotions that may arise, allowing you to take a step back from the situation if needed, and to voice your concerns clearly, if necessary. When taking care of one’s own needs before jumping into dealing with challenges, it can open up important insights on how certain outcomes could be achieved more effectively.
  • Similarly, using reflection as a tool can help you identify opportunities for improvement or even just to become aware of underlying prejudices or assumptions that were previously unidentified.

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She now feels more confident

Additional Resources to Enhance Difficult Conversation Skills

Utilise practical tools such as asking for feedback, positive visualisation techniques, downloadable guides and this “Skills with People’ training course” can help you develop the conversational skills you’ll need for difficult conversations.

Competency Framework for Self-Assessment

The Competency Framework for Self-Assessment serves as a valuable resource in honing the skills necessary for handling difficult conversations. The primary purpose of the framework is to help you in identify areas of strength and areas in need of improvement, ultimately fostering their overall communication and relational abilities.

Key Components


The framework includes a domain that specifically targets managing difficult conversations.

By focusing on this competency, individuals can enhance their communication skills, crucial for dealing with complex discussions.

The Competency Framework for Self-Assessment encourages the use of emotional behavioural skills in preparation for and during challenging dialogues.

Applying these techniques and strategies can improve self-assessed confidence, knowledge, and skills in managing tough conversations, contributing to better overall communication effectiveness.

Using the framework allows individuals to self-assess their capabilities, which may have positive implications for health.

When one's communication and relational abilities are developed and honed, it has been linked to improved health outcomes and patient adherence.

Asking for feedback

  • Asking for feedback may be the most challenging part of your preparation. Here's a suggestion about how to approach it. Identify one or two people you trust. Pluck up courage and approach them. You could adapt these words:- 
  • "I'm keen to find out how I can improve as a leader/manager/team member, etc., and I need feedback from a few people I work with. I'm not asking you to assess me as a person. The feedback I need is more specific than that. What I want to know is exactly when something I say or do makes you feel good, and exactly when it makes you feel bad. The more specific you can be, the better, and I promise I won't take offence whatever you say. Are you willing?" 

Visualising Positive Outcomes

  • Visualising positive outcomes before engaging in difficult conversations can be an invaluable tool for achieving a more favourable outcome. Even though there is always some inherent uncertainty when it comes to tough conversations, taking the time to think through and visualise the desired result, will help individuals maintain their calm attitude.
  • Visualising a successful outcome may involve imagining smooth communication with direct reports or clients as well as a kind-hearted peacekeeper. Negative feedback must happen at times, and visualising how focusing on outlining key points rather than exact words coming out of someone’s mouth could help avoid misunderstandings go a long way towards managing expectations. It can also significantly diminish emotional charge in those difficult conversations intensify.
  • This process does not come without challenges though – visualisation requires that one step back from the situation, take into account both people’s perspectives, and put aside internal judgments that tend to popup during intense emotions.

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How aware are you of your effect on others?

The Skills with People Training course

This training is for any manager under pressure who needs to earn respect and cooperation, and avoid getting into arguments with difficult people. If you want to succeed at getting the best out of people, then this is relevant for you.

Many managers under pressure believe that people are only persuaded by reason. Most managers assume that all it takes to persuade people to your point of view when they resist you is reason, and that the best way to win arguments is to deliver a perfectly scripted piece of irrefutable logic. But nothing could be further from the truth.

If you're a manager who needs the cooperation of other people, then THIS training is exactly what you're looking for. On the "Skills with People" training course you'll learn how to overcome other people's resistance without triggering conflict.

This course makes it easier for you to;-

  • Say 'no' without conflict.
  • Speak assertively without being aggressive.
  • Create rapport with difficult people.
  • Give honest feedback without causing offence.
  • Gain people's enthusiastic cooperation so you can delegate to them more confidently.
  • and for example as a woman, you can be taken seriously by men without needing to become aggressive.

... and so much more!

  • You won't have to worry about how to deal with people being difficult again! Which also means you'll not be stuck like some managers struggling to earn trust and respect.
  • If you're interested in taking exploring how you can personally make best use of these skills, and how these skills can be applied to you personally we can arrange a FREE initial coaching session as part of the programme.
  • If you're a manager who wants a reputation for being great at inspiring, motivating and getting the best out of people, click the link now:
  • you could become really good at dealing with people
  • you could easily minimise misunderstandings and miscommunications
  • which means you'll significantly reduce anxiety and stress at work

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Learn how to tune in to others and enable them to tune in to you

Real-Life Examples and Case Studies

Gain insight from some inspiring stories illustrating how others have dealt with difficult conversations through their own experiences.

Success Stories of Graceful Difficult Conversations

  1. Forceful communicator who created friction
    Marketing director aiming to bring about a change of outlook in the company. She would argue her case and then get impatient if people didn't see reason. The way she argued made them feel attacked. Her management training need was to learn to stop saying "Yes, but" and listen with empathy to their concerns - in other words, change her approach from an adversarial one to a more emotionally intelligent one leading to mutual respect and understanding.
  2. Technically very sound but lacking persuasive skills
    Chief engineer on a large site. Had difficulty winning directors' support for his ideas - didn't know how to persuade others without getting into arguments. The more he argued the less receptive they became. He had to learn to stop arguing when people resisted, listen patiently, appreciate what was bothering them, reassure them, and not press his case until he had opened their minds - in other words, use more empathy. His management training need was to learn to use more emotional intelligence.
  3. Successful manager with no specific training need other than a wish to understand better her effect on others and sharpen up her skills in preparation for a more challenging role
    Manager on the fast track - loved developing her skills and hungry for feedback. She was keen to know how she came across and also to hone up her emotional intelligence in preparation for a new and more challenging role. She wanted to know what it felt like to be managed by her, to negotiate with her, to criticise her, to disagree with her, to be in meetings run by her. On the course she discovered that although she had no overriding specific management training need her ability to handle difficult situations could be significantly enhanced by sharpening up her assertiveness and showing more empathy. 

Lessons Learned from Challenging Situations

When dealing with difficult conversations, there are valuable lessons to be learned from challenging situations. Here are a few key points to especially consider:

  • Have an Open Mind - Even when the other person has valid points that may differ from your own, if you can listen with empathy, it will make it much more likely that you’ll have a good outcome for both sides. This helps us remain level headed regardless of any disagreements that arise.  Note - empathy is not the same thing as agreement. You can show someone you get where they are coming from, even if you think they’re barking up the wrong tree.
  • Speak With Clarity and Respect - When voicing your thoughts it is important not only to present them clearly but also do so respectfully and without hostile tones or language towards the other person's beliefs or perspectives. We can stay focused on providing constructive feedback while still being courteous at all times.

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Learn how to be both firm and fair


  • The key takeaway from this article is that handling difficult conversations with grace requires courage and preparation. Approaching the conversation with empathy and understanding can change its entire outcome.
  • Active listening, asking open-ended questions, and setting clear boundaries are all positive strategies that can lead to a productive dialogue. Difficult conversations offer opportunities for growth and resolution when managed effectively, so it’s important not to shy away from these interactions.
  • Preparing ahead of time will help remain focused on the desired outcome of the conversation; take some time beforehand to think about what you want to say and how you want to express your feelings in an assertive yet compassionate manner—this will benefit you greatly in having challenging conversations with grace and ease.
  • Difficult conversations can be difficult to navigate, but with a combination of strategies and self-awareness it is possible to handle them gracefully. Taking the time to prepare yourself for these sensitive dialogues beforehand will help you stay composed and connect more authentically with both yourself and those around you.

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Learn how to be soft on the person and kind to the person

Dealing with difficult conversations FAQs

1. What is a difficult conversation?

A difficult conversation is one where the topic might be sensitive or controversial, and could lead to disagreement between two or more people.

2. Why are difficult conversations important?

Difficult conversations can cause tension and emotional discomfort, but they're often necessary for addressing issues in relationships such as conflicts at work or home.

3. How do I prepare for a difficult conversation?

To prepare for a difficult conversation, practice what you want to say beforehand and create an environment that encourages open dialogue by setting ground rules about respectful speech.

You should also consider your client struggling own emotions ahead of time, so that you remain composed during the actual conversation.

4. How can I conduct a difficult conversation with grace and ease? 

When having a difficult conversation, stay calm and listen carefully to what the other person has to say before responding thoughtfully while maintaining eye contact. Let them finish their point before offering your view on how to resolve the situation in order to maintain calm and demonstrate respect and understanding throughout the process.

5. How can I maintain a calm attitude during tough negotiations or conversations?

Maintaining a calm attitude is essential when dealing with difficult conversations. By internally modulating your emotional responses and remembering the key points you want to convey, you can navigate tough negotiations or discussions with grace and ease.

6. What should I do when faced with blame-based accusations during a conversation?

When confronted with blame-based accusations, it's important to respond diplomatically. Instead of losing your standing or engaging in an emotionally charged exchange, focus on phrasing your points concisely and countering negativity with a positive outlook.

7. How can I handle delivering bad news to a client who may have intense emotions?

Delivering bad news requires a kind-hearted peacekeeper approach. Understand that clients may experience complex emotional responses and that their feelings are valid. By maintaining executive presence and delivering the news while considering their emotional state, you can achieve a positive outcome.

8. What techniques can I use to navigate tense situations with family members?

Dealing with tense situations among family members demands the same cascade of strategies used in any difficult conversation. You can internally modulate your emotional responses, absorb negativity by externally expressing empathy, and find common ground by simply reminding everyone of the importance of maintaining great relationships.

9. How do I manage my internal judgments when engaging in conversations that involve negative feedback?

When handling negative feedback, it's crucial to avoid blame-based accusations and instead focus on maintaining a calm attitude. Externally express your understanding of the other person's feelings, even if they're making a major mistake. By doing so, you can navigate difficult conversations with grace and ease.

10. What's the significance of delivering difficult news while considering the other party's emotional charge?

The emotional charge that comes with difficult conversations intensifies when dealing with real pain. Whether it's outlining key points, maintaining calm, or finding a positive outcome, acknowledging the emotional charge of the situation helps you approach the conversation with empathy and understanding.

11. Can you provide tips for handling tough negotiations with a direct report?

Navigating tough negotiations with a direct report requires an executive presence. By keeping both a break and your calm attitude in mind, you can point concisely to the key points you want to convey. Remember, even in inherently uncertain situations, maintaining a kind-hearted peacekeeper approach can lead to a positive outcome.

12. How can I ensure I maintain great relationships while dealing with difficult conversations in professional settings?

Maintaining great relationships during tough conversations involves the same tactics as with family members. Keep both a break and your calm attitude, and remember that a positive outcome can benefit greatly from externally expressing empathy and reminding everyone of the importance of grace and ease.

13. What can I do to manage my emotional responses and avoid a fight or flight response during intense discussions?

To manage emotional responses during intense discussions, practice phrase silently. By internally modulating your reactions and externally expressing empathy, you can handle difficult conversations with grace. Remember, even strangers can benefit greatly from your ability to respond diplomatically.

14. How can I approach conversations with complex emotional responses while ensuring a positive outcome?

When dealing with conversations involving complex emotional responses, it's crucial to absorb negativity and counteract it with a calm attitude. By pointing concisely to key points, you can deliver bad news or navigate tough negotiations while still maintaining a kind-hearted peacekeeper approach for a positive outcome.

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Free exploratory coaching session

The first session is free so you're not committing yourself until you're sure this training is relevant for you. You will also learn something practical you can use right away that'll help you handle a difficult situation more successfully at work.

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