handling difficult communication

Handling Difficult Communication

Posted May 6th, 2022

How can I deliver difficult news? How can I communicate with challenging people?

The term ‘communication skills’ has become a bit of a buzz phrase. We all acknowledge the importance of being able to communicate successfully, and often list ‘communication skills’ when talking about our strengths, but how often do we consider what that really means?

Communication as a concept is pretty broad, and any number of things could be considered a form of communication skill. For example…

  • Being assertive
  • Understanding of body language
  • Networking skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Handling complaints
  • Emotional intelligence

…to name a few! These things can be considered individual skills, but they are also heavily intertwined and work together to create productive communication skills.

When it comes to assessing our own communication abilities, it can help to break things down and consider just one aspect at a time. This article explores communicating successfully when it might be difficult and offers tips on how to do so.

Communicating Difficult Messages

We all face times when we have to deliver difficult or negative news to other people. These situations may arise more if we are in a leadership position or engage with lots of different people due to the nature of our job.

It is worth knowing that being able to structure the communication in a logical manner is the best way to ensure the message is delivered and received clearly. A solid structure makes you a better communicator, ensuring you are able to get across all of the information you need or plan to. It also means the recipients are more likely to understand.

Try to use the following structure when communicating a difficult message.

Context. It is helpful to begin with some context, don’t fly straight into the matter. What are you going to be talking about?

Headline. Introduce the difficult message or news, clearly and concisely.

Detail. Once you have led with the difficult message and brought it to everyone’s attention you can explain it in more detail.

Reason. Part of going into detail means explaining what caused the situation.

Rationale. What led to the reason? Explaining the background behind the reasoning can be helpful for people who may be struggling to understand.

Consequences. One of the most important steps of communicating a difficult message is explaining what this actually means to the individuals. What do they need to know regarding how this will affect them?

Alternative actions. Finally, are there any available alternatives?

Whilst this structure is an excellent rule of thumb for difficult communication, being able to identify the best method of communication for a given topic is also important.

Are you going to deliver it to a group or speak to them all individually?

When is the best time to deliver the news? 

What plans are in place for afterwards?

Being able to make these decisions effectively is an important communication skill. Our Communicating Difficult Messages training course materials cover this, as well as other tools to ensure participants are equipped to deliver difficult messages effectively while coping with awkward behaviours within a team.

Dealing with Difficult People

Speaking of awkward behaviours, it is only natural that we sometimes struggle to get along with everyone around us, especially in the workplace.

We become better communicators when we learn that we cannot change someone’s behaviour, they can only decide to do that themselves based on the situation and circumstances we present. A good communicator can approach conflict without causing defensiveness or criticism.

How can we best communicate with someone we may deem as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’?

Acknowledge the person and the way they are feeling. Even if you disagree, empathy can go a long way, let the person know that you are aware of how they feel in a non-patronising manner.

Acknowledge your position. It is important to also acknowledge your own position on the matter. This way, you have clearly laid out where you each stand.

Make it clear that you understand their position. Listening to the other person’s views and showing empathy is key to productive communication during a disagreement.

Where possible move the situation forward. Putting the incident in the past tense can encourage you both to move on. If there is an agreement that needs to be reached, employ assertive behaviour and encourage a structured and productive conversation based.

Walk away. Remember that you always have the power to remove yourself from the situation if the other person is not willing to communicate. You cannot change them or their behaviour, only how you communicate with them. Draw boundaries where necessary.

With that said, every situation is different, and there are many ways to combat or avoid difficult situations in the workplace. Trainer Bubble offers Dealing with Challenging People course materials, which helps participants do more than just approach conflict in a structured way. Participants can…

  • Build strong relationships with colleagues.
  • Overcome negative communication barriers and improve working relationships.
  • Create a positive work environment through positive relationships.
  • Improve their self-awareness and perform better as a team.
  • Avoid conflict scenarios and adapt behaviour to solve issues.
  • Achieve positive workplace communications.

Ultimately, strong communication skills mean the ability to approach difficult situations and challenging people in a productive and efficient manner. We can all work on this individually, but if we wish to see positive and effective workplaces, everyone must be well-versed in dealing with problematic situations.

Our relevant training resources explore these situations in much greater detail and offer a range of tips, tools and examples that can help your organisation ensure that difficult situations and conflicts are minimised, but that all employees know how to approach them productively when they inevitably do happen.

Dealing with Challenging People

Communicating Difficult Messages

Managing Difficult Behaviours 

Conflict Handling

Trainer Bubble also offers an extensive range of training resources and e-learning courses across a range of topics, including communication training, business development, leadership training and compliance. Explore what we can offer your business here.

Or for more information, and to discuss the learning needs of your business, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.​


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