Why Do We Resist Difficult Discussions?


“I should talk to that employee about her poor performance.”

“I have to tell the employee dentist he cannot have a pay rise.”

“It’s not working out; I have to let the steri-nurse go.”

Difficult discussions are a part of owning a business. However, the thought of having these discussions sends nervous trepidation through many people.


For starters, we like to be liked. We like to be accepted. We enjoy giving good news and avoid giving bad news. We find it easier to compliment than we do to criticise. We don’t like to be the reason someone is upset, emotional or angry.

Secondly, we fear the response we will get. We wonder how badly the other person may react to our bad news and that imagining becomes what we try and avoid.

Thirdly, we are afraid of fumbling through our delivery of the bad news and making a bad situation even worse.

Achieving a good outcome when having a difficult discussion is like achieving success in any situation. Your results will be greater if you PREPARE.

How can we get better at telling people things they do not wish to hear? Here are some practical strategies.

  1. Never handle a sensitive situation while you are angry or emotional. These feelings push out reason and fairness. Angry people are only concerned with how a situation affects them, and the needs of others are ignored.
  2. Take time to consider the situation from the other person’s side. How would you react, if the roles were reversed? Your empathetic approach will soften your message without diminishing its importance.
  3. Accept your feelings of discomfort. They are normal and are an indicator of your humanity. Embracing your discomfort as normal will diminish the intensity of it.
  4. You do not have control over the recipient’s response. That is his or her business. Allow the recipient to react. Just as many of us have not learned how to deliver bad news, many have not yet learned how to receive it either. If needed, suggest they go out for a walk and then you can continue your discussion once they have had a chance to consider what has been said.

I have needed to have many difficult discussions over the years. What I have found is that paying attention to my fears does no good. It sets me on a path of avoidance. Instead I focus on the positive result that I want, and what I can do to make that happen.

What I have also found is that, if I take the time to prepare, every difficult discussion becomes easier.

Everything is difficult before it becomes easy. The same is true when conducting difficult discussions.

If you have additional strategies that you have found to be helpful in these circumstances, send them to us and we will be happy to share them in a future blog.