Getting Tough Subjects Out in the Open

It’s tough to talk about sensitive topics but in some cases, they can’t be avoided. The only solution to this is a diplomatic approach. Thus, one of the best skills great managers have is knowing how to bring up tough subjects out in the open without inciting negative reactions with the people they’re communicating with.

tough-subjects-managerWhen it comes to business management, how you say something is more important than what you’re actually saying, whether you’re delivering a bad performance review, reporting the less than desirable results of a project, questioning a dubious process, confronting someone about a complaint, etc. It’s crucial that you’re prepared before initiating a difficult conversation in order to prevent things from getting out of hand. Here are some tips you can use:

  • Identify your goals: What is your intention for bringing up a tough subject? What outcome are you expecting? Create an outline for the conversation so you can steer the talk back on track in case the discussion goes off to a different direction.
  • Ask the other party for their preferred mode of communication: Do they prefer email? A phone call? Or a face-to-face conversation? Talking about a tough subject is difficult in itself, so it’s better to put the other party at ease by making them select the medium they prefer to communicate in.
  • Put yourself in the other party’s shoes: It’s easy to forget how they will react if you see the conversation only from your point of view. To anticipate how they will respond to a tough subject, empathize with what they’re feeling. Listen to whatever they’re saying in the conversation because you may learn something that haven’t considered before. If the talk calls for them to defend themselves, they may have a good reason for their actions. If the talk calls for you to defend yourself, then they may also have a good reason for criticizing you.
  • Establish rapport from the beginning: The other party should be able to trust you so that they’ll feel you are on their side and you understand where they’re coming from. However, make sure your concern is sincere because people can easily tell when someone is just faking it.
  • Keep your own reactions in check: If the other party becomes confrontational, defensive, angry, or even violent, how will you respond? It’s going to be hard not to let your emotions get the best of you, but you have to if you don’t want fuel the fire. Stay calm and wait for them to simmer down before proceeding with the conversation.
  • Stick to the plan: The other party may end up derailing the conversation either wittingly or not depending on how they’ll react, so you have to stay true to your purpose if you want to get the outcome you expect. Your goal is to reach a mutual understanding by the end of the talk so strive to work toward it, regardless of the obstacles you encounter along the way.
  • Document everything: Emotions can run high during a difficult conversation, so all the more reason to record every detail. This is a meeting, after all, and all effective meetings have verifiable minutes you can use as reference later on.

Navigating through difficult conversations is a delicate art, but if you have the patience to learn, you’ll be able to handle them smoothly especially with enough practice. Diplomacy is a key skill to learn, and once you’ve had it down pat, you’ll be amazed at all the challenging situations you can breeze through. In business management and in real life, that goes a long way!


  1. Hiram Taylor
    • Jeffrey Ruby

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