Assignment: Individual Reflection: Handling Difficult Conversations

What is the cost of avoiding a difficult or stressful conversation? At the workplace, avoiding such conversations can lead to absenteeism, low morale, and—in some circumstances—costly litigation. Avoiding difficult conversations can also indulge the worst behaviors in uncooperative colleagues, partners, and employees: gossip, infighting, and retaliation that distract the organization from its purpose and goals. Such avoidance of conflict can sap motivation and push talented employees out the door. Managers need to be familiar with processes for approaching difficult conversations, and how to learn from previous experiences to improve this important skill.

As your Learning Resources have reflected (Edmondson & Smith, 2006; Weeks, 2001), engaging in difficult conversations can be one of the more difficult responsibilities of a manager. Difficult conversations involving money, performance, and expectations are inevitable in the workplace, so managers need to know how to approach them effectively whether they are delivering negative feedback and bad news, de-escalating unhealthy conflict between colleagues, or working through an organizational crisis.

To prepare for this Individual Reflection, recall a difficult face to face conversation that you have had in a professional setting where you had to give or receive critical feedback. Reflect on whether you were prepared for the conversation, the positive and negative elements of the conversation, and how it ended. Also, reflect on the steps you initiated after the conversation occurred.


Submit a 2- to 3-page account of a difficult conversation you had in a professional context. Make sure you include the following:

  • First, briefly describe the circumstances of a difficult face-to-face conversation you have had in a professional setting. Then recount the specific actions you took to try to resolve the situation, and explain whether or not those actions were effective and why.
  • Applying the learning resources from the week, analyze the difficult conversation and explain what it taught you about your own approach to communication, and the strategies that would help you improve your communication skills. Be sure to provide a rationale as to why you think these strategies would be effective for you and lead to better results in these types of circumstances.
  • Finally, if you were to face a similar difficult conversation today, explain how you would prepare for it. Use the weekly Learning Resources and, where appropriate, your personal and professional experiences to support conclusions.

Edmondson, A., & Smith, D. (2006). Too hot to handle? How to manage relationship conflict. California Management Review, 49(1), 6–31.

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