Communicate for Success

It can be hard to communicate effectively when you are dealing with workplace conflict. Ideally you will resolve a conflict with the person directly to bring the issue to their attention and give them a chance to respond. Here are a few basic tips to help you have a difficult conversation:

  • Give the person some notice that you want to talk to them, don't bring up the issue by surprise
  • Email or talk to the individual and request a meeting to discuss your concerns
  • Find a private location for the meeting so that you can talk confidentially, without interruption and taking as much time as you need
  • If you feel unprepared or overly anxious about having a difficult conversation, seek advice from your supervisor or another manager you trust

Prepare for a Conversation

Raise the issue with the person in a way that conveys your message effectively. It may help to take notes beforehand. The following framework will help you prepare. Be ready to

  • Describe the problem or behaviour as you have observed it and the impact of the behaviour
  • Be specific and clear, and avoid judgemental language
  • Be respectful by using tact and diplomacy
  • Listen and allow the other person to share their views
  • If possible, get an agreement that a problem exists
  • Explore your respective interests, needs, concerns and hopes
  • Brainstorm options for solving the problem
  • Agree on a follow-up action plan
  • Be prepared that the person may not agree to any part of this conversation with you. If this happens, tell them what further steps you will take to solve the issue and the timeframe for follow-up. This takes courage. Be firm, but respectful

The Conversation

This meeting should help to clarify and understand both views. The goal is to resolve the issue and restore a healthy and productive working relationship.

At the start of the meeting

  • Clearly state your issue. For example, if a decision that impacts you has been made, state your understanding of the decision and get confirmation that your understanding is correct
  • Give the other person a chance to clarify anything you have misunderstood, and listen to understand
  • State what change you are seeking
  • Listen to the other person's concerns
  • Work together to develop a mutually agreeable solution

During the meeting

  • Stay curious and be open to other perspectives and possibilities
  • Do not react defensively or confrontationally. Avoid saying, "you always…" or "you never…"

At the end of the meeting

  • Write down an account of the conversation while it is fresh in your mind
  • Determine if the issue is successfully resolved and commit to follow-up. If the issue is resolved, no further steps are taken
  • If the issue is not resolved or if the person refuses to participate, there are other information resources and services that may assist you

Get available resources when you need them.