+44 (0) 1727 847 889

  • How are you coming across to your boss?
    How are you coming across to your boss?
  • Does your feedback help people change?
    Does your feedback help people change?
  • Do you frequently get into arguments?
    Do you frequently get into arguments?
  • Are your conversations achieving what you want?
    Are your conversations achieving what you want?
  • Can you allow discussion and still keep control?
    Can you allow discussion and still keep control?
  • Are you getting the best out of your people?
    Are you getting the best out of your people?

Might your need to be more successful at 
managing difficult conversations at work 
be met by this London UK based management training course 
called Skills with People?

Yes, if any of the following are true for you

  • You seem to get into lots of conflicts, disagreements and difficult conversations at work.
  • Your confidence at managing difficult conversations at work gets in the way of you being successful.
  • You want to develop your skills at dealing with difficult conversations at work so that others to treat you with more respect, understanding and cooperation.But, it’s difficult because you don't know how to respond when other people “throw their toys out of the pram”.  You certainly don’t want to handle the difficult conversations clumsily if it ends up making matters worse.  You want to avoid insulting other people, or hurting their feelings in case it damages your relationships.
  • Sometimes disagreements about how to achieve your goals can lead to difficult conversations at work, even though that's not what you want.If you are under pressure to deliver results at work, but when other people dig in their heels and resist you because they don’t agree with everything you’re saying it’s hard managing difficult conversations without them turning aggressive.  You may feel worried that if you don't push hard enough you may jeopardise your reputation for being able to get your job done, but if you push the other person too hard you might damage your relationship, causing a rift that may be difficult to repair.
  • You’re in a position to help deal with difficult conversations at work between other people, but you’re not confident you know a professional way to calm them down so that can become more reasonable once they’ve become upset, angry or defensive.

Free exploratory coaching session

INTERESTED?

If so, you can have a FREE exploratory coaching session. It'll give you a foretaste of what you can get from the course. You make no commitment to proceed beyond this until you're sure this training is relevant to your own particular need.

How to accept this offer

Simply contact us for a preliminary chat and to arrange your free exploratory coaching session. 

What this session will do for you

In this session we'll aim to give you something practical you can use right away that'll help you handle a difficult situation more successfully at work. All you need do to prepare for this session is think about the kinds of situations you want to be able to handle more successfully.

FAQs

You'll find answers to many of your questions about the content and method of this course under FAQs (in the main menu above).

Why do people avoid difficult conversations?

A number of physiological changes occur in the body occur when we are under pressure in a conflict or stressful situations that make managing difficult conversations at work challenging.  It’s part of our body’s “fight, flight or freeze” response.  This physical and measurable change can have a dramatic effect on people’s ability to think straight, process data, and even distort feelings.  Once the other person has become triggered into a defensive posture it makes it very difficult for you to successfully connect because of their highly stress and agitated state of mind.

You probably know from your own experience of managing difficult conversations at work that dealing with an irrational person who is getting upset or angry can be a minefield.  This is why lots of people prefer to avoid the difficult conversations at work altogether.  

However, with some understanding, training and practice it is possible to develop your skills and to feel much more confident about managing difficult conversations more successfully. 

What to be aware of when managing difficult conversations at work.

When you’re managing difficult conversations at work it is helpful to be aware of what is likely to be getting in the way, and why the other person might find it harder to behave reasonably, calmly and rationally.  When someone’s emotions are triggered into becoming defensive or resistant three things change, their thinking, their feelings, and their ability to connect with other people.  Here’s more detail;-

  • Thinking - The way people process information becomes clouded when they are upset.Their thinking can become confused.  They may behave defensively.  They can forget what you share in common.  They can become stuck in fruitless arguments.  Their minds play tricks on them.  Their perception of you may become distorted. They may see you as their enemy, attacking you, painting you with the very worst characteristics.  The gulf between you may widen to the point where it becomes unbridgeable.  In this frame of mind it is not possible to come together to rationally deal with a problem or a complaint at work.  While managing difficult conversations with someone in a state of mind like this you have to be very patient in order to calm them down.  If you rush prematurely to try to convince them, or “win the other person round” with a reasoned or logical argument you are likely to be unsuccessful while the other person is still in an agitated state of mind.
  • Feelings - The way they feeling can escalate and become extreme.They may have mixed emotions.  Fear, anger, pain, are common, as well as resentment and vulnerability.  They are likely to feel misunderstood, judged and attacked.  Their brain can become flooded with hormones and chemicals that put them into a heightened state of alertness towards a perceived threat.  In this state it's no use telling them to “calm down”. They can’t, not just like that.  Their emotional state makes managing difficult conversations impossible if you try to rush them.
  • Connecting with other people - They are likely to respond defensively.Whilst in an agitated state of mind, or defensive mood they are unlikely to have the capacity to properly listen to your point of view.  The way they may speak to you may be hostile and aggressive.  If they aren’t confident enough to admit openly how unhappy they are then as their hostility is likely to leak more covertly in the form of sarcasm or passive-aggressive behaviour.  While in this state of mind they are can to very easily both feel misunderstood, and to misunderstand you.  They too may prefer to avoid dealing with difficult conversations because it's so stressful for them.  Again, this kind of defensiveness makes handling difficult behaviour extremely challenging.

3 tips for how to have difficult conversations at work once the other person has become triggered into behaving defensively or aggressively.

You can learn to be more confident managing difficult conversations by not rushing, and going gradually step by step.  It’s too ambitious expecting people to be able to calm down and speak rationally if they are still feeling agitated.  They can’t connect with you when they are still in this frame of mind.  It’s premature at this stage, and won’t work.  Here’s an alternative approach;-

  • Step 1.  The way to handle difficult conversations like this is first, for you to demonstrate your willingness to connect with them with some empathy, by acknowledging the seriousness of what has happened, and its impact on them.  You may have to guess, but it’s probably an educated guess based on what they’ll have told you already.  This will encourage them to let off some steam.  Once they’ve had a chance to let off steam they’ll be able to calm down.  The more steam you allow them to let off, the more rational they’re going to end up becoming, and the more likely they’ll be able to reached by reason and logic. This can be difficult for you, because in order to successfully manage difficult conversations you’ll need to be generously spirited enough to allow them to voice their unhappiness, and give you “what for”. The most helpful thing you can do is to reflect back how urgent the issue is, and to acknowledge its effect on the other person.  When (and only when) people feel better understood, respected and appreciated, they are more likely feel safer.  Once the other person has had the opportunity to get it off their chest, has expressed their negative feelings, has begun to feel taken seriously, and feels treated respectfully they’ll be ready for step 2 …
  • Step 2.  You next need to do is to reassure them that you’re taking them seriously, are that you’re invested in resolving the disagreement, wanting to do your best to help, and motivated to do everything you can to sort out their problem. You can do this by expressing firmly and clearly how youfeel about it, e.g. “I’m disappointed you’ve had a bad experience”, “I feel confident there’s a way to sort this out”, or “I’d really like to find a way to get this resolved satisfactorily and win your confidence back”.  By saying these kinds of things you demonstrate that it matters to you to get the bottom of the issue, resolve the disagreement, or handle their complaint successfully.
  • Step 3.  It can then very helpful to say what you intend to do about it, e.g. “I’m determined to do my best to sort this out for you by doing such-and-such”, or “I’d love us to be able to find a compromise we can both be happy to agree to, how about so-and-so”, “I’m keen to accommodate your request as soon as I can reasonably fit it into my existing workload, this is when I can commit to having done it”.  Done well, this will reassure the other person that they matter to you, and that you are motivated to help or support them.

When managing a difficult conversation you then earn people’s trust by doing exactly what you’ve told them you’re going to do.  If you’ve bought yourself some time by saying you’ll get back to them within a deadline you need to get back to them when you’ve said.  If you can’t meet the deadline, then getting back to them with an update will be better than leaving them in the dark.

Done well, with a bit of skill, managing difficult conversations in this way can not only repair a damaged relationship, but you’ll have an opportunity to earn even more of the other person’s confidence than if they’d never had the problem in the first place.

A typical example of how managing difficult conversations can make a huge difference to your success.

This is a typical example of how managing difficult conversations at work with more confidence can help you gain people’s co-operation and win their confidence when they are resisting or objecting.  By following the tips above you too can be more skilled at calming people down when they are aggressive or complaining.  Over the years thousands of participants have attended our “Skills with People” training course because they wanting to develop their confidence at managing difficult conversations more successfully.  

Does this ring any bells for you or someone you know?

The problem - A manager who reacted defensively at work when other people complained

Distribution manager under fire from all sides at work.  It wasn’t his fault – it went with the job.  Anyone else in that job would have had similar pressure.  He took the brunt of complaints from customers about late deliveries.  Sales people blamed him when customers were unhappy.  Production people blamed him when he told them they would have to alter their production schedules because of last minute changes demanded by customers. Unfortunately, some of these difficult conversations became heated and there were a few complaints that he himself was difficult, defensive and annoying to deal with.  He was upset and confused by this because although he had to put up with a lot of abuse from other people he always did his best to respond to complaints and other difficult conversations in a calm, reasonable, practical and helpful manner.  

The diagnosis – why was his approach to managing difficult conversations at work unsuccessful?

 His method of handling a complaint was to try to get straight down to the facts so that with the minimum of delay he could sort the problem out.  He would urge the complainer to calm down and to stick to the facts.   He tried to take no notice of the complainer’s feelings because he believed they were a waste of time and would only make matters worse.  Unfortunately, the effect this approach had was sometimes the opposite of the one he intended.  During difficult conversations he meant to give satisfaction to the people who complained by being practical, helpful and efficient, but the effect was to wind them up – and he didn’t understand what was happening.

What mental obstacle to change where getting in the way of being successful at dealing with difficult conversations?

He grew up in a family who never talked about feelings.  The underlying belief was that feelings were uncomfortable, dangerous things, better suppressed or ignored, and that expressing or talking about them only made them worse when having difficult conversations.  The fear of allowing people to express feelings would be a challenging obstacle to overcome.  It is not easy to turn and face something you have always previously run away from, particularly when you are not even aware that you are afraid of it.

The remedy – what he needed to learn in order to be more successful at managing difficult conversations.

First, he needed to be helped to be aware of his fear of feelings.  His underlying assumption that allowing people to express feelings is dangerous because it makes the feelings stronger needed to be challenged and replaced with the opposite idea, namely, that the safest and fastest way to calm people down while managing difficult conversations is to encourage them to let off steam.  His initial reaction to this idea was one of amazement and disbelief.  But in the safety and privacy of a one-to-one session, and subsequent practice in a small group he was encouraged to try responding to people as though it was true.  When someone complained, before trying to sort out the problem, he had to learn to slow down and respond with empathy instead of trying to ignore their feelings. Difficult though this was initially for him, he tried it and the immediate effect was dramatic.  Instead of winding people up, his empathy seemed to calm them down, and to do it very quickly.  Admittedly in the process of letting off steam people were sometimes initially aggressive, but the aggression soon blew over.  By using empathy to calm them down, instead of having difficult conversations, he was able to have much calmer conversations with people and therefore to be quicker to give them satisfaction by sorting out the problems they were complaining about.  There were no more complaints at work that he was a difficult person to deal with.  Some time later he said that learning to show empathy and not be afraid to let people express feelings had helped a great deal not only at work but also while managing difficult conversations at home as well.

We love helping you communicate successfully

By giving you communication skills that'll transform even your most challenging relationships and interactions.

That's the purpose of Skills with People, our training course for managers and professional people at all levels. Thousands have benefited from this course.

What People Have Said About The Course

Project Quality Engineer (self funding)

A lesson for life! The power of effective communication is incredible when one masters the skills "listen with empathy" / "speak assertively". Defin ...

Read More...
Learning & Development Coordinator - The Entertainer

I can't recommend this course enough. It has genuinely been the most impactful course I have ever completed. Understanding that I can be assertive w ...

Read More...
Theatre Manager

Managing to confront them but still maintain their cooperation and support. Previously I was either not confronting or confronting and ending up with ...

Read More...
Feedback from a participant's boss - a Shell International senior manager

He is showing far more self-awareness and more restraint in potentially confrontational situations. He is far more aware of the impact his actions and ...

Read More...
Senior Resource Consultant, Shell International

“Skills with People” has helped me deal with conflict situations.  It has helped me to diffuse tension in meetings and convert pushback into alignment ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Johnson Matthey Catalysts (Germany) senior manager

There has been a noticeable improvement in the performance of this customer service engineer. He is much more succinct now than he was before. He was ...

Read More...
Workshop Manager, Professional Plant Services

I now find it easier to have awkward conversations. (As a result of how he has changed several more people from his company are asking to attend the c ...

Read More...
Fundraising Officer, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

A very intimate training which will make anyone reflect on how best to engage with colleagues when confronted with difficult situations.

Read More...
Thank you from a participant

I wanted to let you know that I have secured a new role.  I had to go through an assessment centre and one challenge was to negotiate with a 'belliger ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Johnson & Johnson finance director

He has made excellent progress in the management of his team. He has ensured key stakeholders are involved in decision-making and has gone to great le ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - Chairman of White Clarke Group

He has greatly improved his ability to manage a situation. He listens more and uses that information to convince. A good example is the .... group, wh ...

Read More...
EHS advisor (environmental health and safety), Johnson Matthey

This is the best non-techincal course the company has ever put me on because it's the most useful. 

Read More...
Senior Engineer, Qualcomm

An unbelievable experience, highly motivating training and one of the few which stays forever in your mind. A tangible impact to your life and workin ...

Read More...
Sports Centre Manager

I feel that my relationship with other attendees has improved massively following the session. I'd say 9/10 for what I've got from the course as I sa ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - head of projects in Heinz

He now gains support through his willingness to involve people more and take them with him.

Read More...
Leisure Centre Manager

The most useful part of the course was learning how to convey my disappointment with a member of staff without demotivating them, without making them ...

Read More...
Feedback from a participant's boss - a WS Atkins director

Now he actively listens, probes, asks for clarifications and does not assume anymore he knows the answer.

Read More...
Feedback from a participant's boss - a Merck Sharp & Dohme medical director

She feels more confident in tackling people and has been impressed with her new found techniques, e.g., in dealing with members of the marketing depar ...

Read More...
The wife of a participant

"Just thinking about last night’s conversation and it’s bringing tears to my eyes – it’s what I’ve always wanted: to be able to talk with you like tha ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Prudential director

He is a lot more confident. At the last meeting of our business unit leaders he fully led the meeting and dealt with people very well.

Read More...
National Training Index* report on the course

"From delegates reports we have identified Skills with People is a 'highspot' among UK business courses. Delegates mentioned as most helpful the enha ...

Read More...
Golf Club Manager

Ten out of ten for the course for me personally. I think I would have resigned if it hadn't been for the course.

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Johnson & Johnson marketing director

She has become increasingly aware and focussed on ensuring she is gaining cooperation from colleagues by the way she approaches situations. E.g., Meet ...

Read More...
Feedback from a participant's boss - a Glaxo SmithKline research director

He has made good progress in two areas: 1. team leadership - he listens with empathy to others well and considers their standpoint as well as his own. ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Billiton director

He's obviously making a positive effort and it does show. People used to be scared of him. No longer.

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - an HSBC investment director

I have had three unprompted comments from different team members and colleagues who have been surprised at the consideration he has shown in helping s ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - A Philips Semiconductors director

To what extend do I think his training need has been satisfied? Completely. I have been approached by 4 peers to tell me that they could see a very po ...

Read More...
Feedback from participant's boss - a Kimberley-Clark marketing director

He is now aware of his need to control his direct approach. He was sometimes too assertive. I think he is now well balanced in this respect.

Read More...

Examples of Training Needs Met

Not delegating or developing others Read More...
Preparing for a more challenging role Read More...
Technically very sound but lacking persuasive skills Read More...
Enormous enthusiasm but little sensitivity Read More...
Allowed his meetings to get out of hand Read More...
Difficulty communicating with non-technical people Read More...
Being more assertive would help career go better Read More...
Lots of energy and ideas but little attention for his clients Read More...
Flying high but creating a tense atmosphere Read More...
Had a positive attitude but gave a negative impression Read More...
Respected specialist who was too quiet at meetings Read More...
Very diligent but hated dealing with difficult people Read More...
Well intentioned but demoralising his team Read More...
Forceful communicator who created friction Read More...
Very logical but not creating enough rapport Read More...

Need To Know The Quick Facts?